Counting votes during Jordan’s 2016 elections. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Mohammad Hajeer (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Freedom House Rating
Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
August 2021 (due)
November 2024 (due)
November 10, 2020
August 15, 2017
Jordan is due to hold local elections in August 2021. These follow parliamentary elections that took place in November 2020, which had low turnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jordan is a monarchy and in general, the king exercises executive authority. King Abdullah II, the current monarch, is seen as a reformer and enjoys widespread popularity both in Jordan and internationally. He has encouraged a gradualist path toward greater democracy, and permitted more political space than some other monarchies in the region. Nonetheless, opposition figures and those who protest sometime do face arrest.
Jordan holds regular elections for the lower house of parliament and local councils. Abdullah has indicated a desire to move toward a political system based on parties that compete on their platforms, but in practice, recent elections have been dominated by independent candidates who are tribal leaders or wealthy business people. Constantly-changing rules make it difficult for parties to compete.
In the 2016 parliamentary elections, whose turnout was 36 percent, 99 of the 130 seats went to independent candidates. The Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Jordanian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, won more seats than any other party, after having boycotted the previous two elections. The IAF ran on a reform platform, and partnered with non-Islamists, in an effort to broaden its appeal. Still, it won only 10 out of 130 seats (and its coalition partners won 5 seats). Furthermore, IAF did not compete in all of the electoral districts, and it won less than 12 percent of the vote in the districts where it did compete.
Jordan’s 2020 parliamentary elections saw low turnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters were not able to vote early or by absentee ballot. Therefore, some have described the polls as among the least democratic in Jordan’s recent history.
On the other hand, reform movements have emerged in student union and trade union elections. For example, in 2018 student union elections (which can serve as a barometer for national politics), a new reformist movement called Nashama (Gallantry), opposed to corruption and tribalism, won more seats than the Islamists.
Jordan has hard-won and potentially fragile stability. The government has close ties with the United States and the Gulf States. Jordan has had a peace treaty with Israel since 1994 (prior to that, the two countries had been in a state of war for 46 years). However, recent Israeli plans to annex the West Bank have led to tension, which could have region-wide implications.
Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor (February 10, 2021): King’s call to revisit political reforms triggers cautious optimism in Jordan
Lyse Mauvais, Al-Monitor (January 31, 2021): Campaign trash makes statement on waste, politics in Amman exhibit
Kristen Kao and E.J. Karmel, Washington Post (November 20, 2020): The pandemic compromised Jordan’s parliamentary elections
Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor (November 12, 2020): Voter apathy, pandemic result in low turnout, riots in Jordanian election
AFP (November 12, 2020): Jordanian parliamentary elections see women, Islamists lose out
Nicole Robinson, Heritage Foundation (November 10, 2020): Jordanians Head to the Polls Amid Mounting Economic and Health Crisis
Al Jazeera (November 8, 2020): Jordan’s elections explained in 500 words
Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor (October 1, 2020): Islamists gear up for elections in Jordan amid widespread voter apathy
Taylor Luck, The National (September 27, 2020): Jordan prepares for elections amid anger over Covid-19 missteps
Sean Yom and Wael Al-Khatib, Washington Post’s Monkey Cage (May 17, 2018): Islamists are losing support in Jordan
Kristen Kao, Washington Post’s Monkey Cage (October 3, 2016): How Jordan’s election revealed enduring weaknesses in its political system
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Updated February 17, 2021