Modern systems for modern democracies: Jordan
To support Jordan’s political reform process and help the country’s political decision-making be more open and inclusive, Westminster Foundation for Democracy has been working as part of a consortium of organisations to implement the ‘EU Support to Jordanian Democratic Institutions and Development’ (EU-JDID) programme since 2017.
EU-JDID encompasses four key components – support to parliament, elections, the political party system and civil society. WFD is primarily involved in the first: supporting parliament in order to make it more modern, open and inclusive and ultimately improving the lives of Jordanian citizens.
When we talk about democracy support, we tend to focus on the people involved in the process. This makes sense – creating an inclusive political environment is paramount to a sustainable democracy, and a nation’s people always lie at the very heart of this. A lot of the work EU-JDID is carrying out is people-focused. For instance, EU-JDID hosted workshops throughout 2019 aimed at promoting inclusivity in politics, focusing on women and Jordanian youth in particular. Over the course of the year, more than 450 young Jordanians from a range of the country’s twelve governorates attended youth workshops where they discussed Jordan’s democratic and economic developments with MPs.
However, democracy today needs to be supported by modern systems and technology. For example, ICT technology is extremely useful for improving communication between citizens and elected officials and has therefore a major impact on strengthening of democratic processes. WFD’s contribution to the EU-JDID programme is also focusing on improving the ICT infrastructure of the Jordanian House of Representatives, with the final aim to introduce E-Parliament. ICT systems may not have the same allure as the human stories of politics, but improved ICT infrastructure has the power to change the lives of voters and modern, reliable and accurate systems are essential for viable democracies.
Over the course of 2019, one of our key achievements has been the introduction and implementation of a new House of Representatives Electronic Conference and Voting System in the plenary session hall. This involved over a thousand hours of work by nearly 50 individuals, and the training of 129 MPs on the new system and operating procedures. The success of the new system culminated in it being chosen in the Rules of Procedure as the preferred method for votes taking place in the House of Representatives, a testament to the important work being done as part of EU-JDID.
The benefits of the new system are an exciting step towards more transparent, accurate, accountable, and efficient parliamentary processes in Jordan. It will allow for more transparency in the voting process, as it provides instant voting results that are readily available to the public.
Because there is no need for the manual casting and counting of ballots, human error is limited so results will be far more accurate. The system will be able to provide the Jordanian people with a breakdown of votes, allowing them to hold their MPs accountable for their voting records, and tight security measures that will mean that MPs will not be able to vote in the place of others.
Whilst there is no silver bullet for creating wholly open and transparent political systems, alongside our work with various parliamentary committees – as well as helping to develop the strategic plan for the House of Representatives, language training, conducting study visits, and preparing manuals and handbooks to help staffers – the new Electronic Conference and Voting System will greatly benefit both the Jordanian Parliament and Jordanian citizens who will be able to be more included in the decision-making process of their nation.
The livestreaming and broadcasting of sessions in the House of Representatives and the increased answerability of MPs will facilitate dialogue between the people and those that have been elected to represent them and will empower Jordan’s people to hold those in power to account.