Jordan goes to the polls – Sweden takes part in observer mission

Squeezed between a number of conflicts, Jordan is often presented as the ‘calm oasis’ in the region. The Israel-Palestine conflict in the west, the war in Syria in the north, and the conflict in Iraq to the east stand in contrast to the relative stability in Jordan. These conflicts, and the neighbouring countries of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, influence and set the agenda for developments in Jordan, both economically and politically.

Jordan is dealing with a humanitarian crisis within its borders, with over 650 000 Syrian refugees and tens of thousands of others from Iraq, Yemen and Libya. The economy is floundering as a result of the wars in Syria and Iraq. Jordan is trying to maintain an appropriate distance from the region’s conflicts to avoid being drawn in. Despite the violence and destruction close to its borders, Jordan is taking a different path, its own path.

In this very unstable environment, Jordan held parliamentary elections on 20 September. A number of political reforms were introduced before the election aimed at increasing political participation. One distinctive feature of this election was that the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, the Islamic Action Front, chose to take part after having boycotted elections in Jordan since 2007.

The election was observed throughout the country by the EU’s observer mission, among others, which included a contribution from Sweden. Embassy staff joined the local observer teams and on election day they visited some twenty different polling stations in rural areas and in the capital, Amman.

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The election observers were there when the polling stations opened to monitor that the ballot papers were counted and the ballot boxes sealed according to the rules. During the course of the day, the Embassy monitored how many people voted, whether there were any campaign activities taking place at polling stations, and how the voting took place. How many women came to the polling station? How did illiterate people receive help to vote? Were votes bought outside the polling station? Was ballot secrecy respected? Were people with reduced mobility able to get to the polling station? The role of election observers is to gather as much information as possible.

Once the polling stations closed in the evening, the election administrators locked the doors to the polling stations to count the votes. The Embassy was also involved in this and observed how the votes were counted and how the final voting result was compiled. The vote count continued into the early hours and for several days afterwards, until all of the country’s polling stations had reported their results, which were aggregated at national level.

The election was assessed by the EU observer mission as well organised and as having taken place without any major procedural errors, an assessment shared by other international observers.

But democratic elections are about so much more than just the voting process. For an election to be democratic, other key rights must be respected, such as the right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, access to information, and protection against all forms of discrimination. An election should also result in a parliament with elected representatives who have power and act in their voters’ interests, and who can legislate and hold the government accountable in a meaningful way. Jordan still has a long way to go in this respect. The parliament that has been elected does not appoint the government and has limited legislative power.

Sweden supports human rights and democracy development in Jordan, with a focus on freedom of expression and women’s rights. Our objective is to contribute to greater respect for human rights and a vibrant civil society that is needed not least when elections are held. Sweden’s contribution to the Syria crisis includes financial support to the region amounting to SEK 1.7 billion over five years, and SEK 2.2 billion in humanitarian aid.

Josefine Hellgren
Embassy in Jordan