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In Jordan, young people are finding innovative ways to practice politics

January 23, 2014 at 4:51 am

In Jordan, the parliamentary elections in January were viewed as little more than an exercise in public relations. At least this is the sentiment among those who oppose the election law on the basis that it endorses government loyalists and tribal leaders, excludes emerging political parties and represents a fraction of the span of voices that exist in the Kingdom today.

Although recent reforms mean that Jordanians now have two votes instead of one – one for their local constituency and one at a national level – many feel this is not change enough. 123 seats out of a total 150 in the parliament are reserved for Jordan’s 12 governorates, yet traditionally more seats are allocated to areas historically loyal to the monarchy and less to Palestinian and Brotherhood districts.

The remaining 27 seats (18%) are reserved for the national list. The opposition, amongst them youth groups, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) and various liberal and civil movements, want to increase the proportion of seats to 50%. This, they argue, would create space for new, emerging parties to be represented in parliament and reflect the true plurality of voices in Jordan.

To make matters worse, in the recent elections a number of members voted in had been previously arrested for spending political money, casting serious doubt over how suitable their appointment has been. Anyone under the age of 30 is currently banned from running for election, a rule that excludes a number of emerging youth parties from parliament.

Electoral reform, or lack of representation in the parliament in Jordan has been a bone of contention for years; as a result many young people are now channelling their frustration into social media, a phenomenon which has long been part of the Arab Spring. Hampered with restrictions in Jordan’s official political system, young people in Jordan have founded a self-funded, alternative parliament on Facebook in order to oversee a traditional counterpart many feel does little more than provoke disappointment and symbolise failed reforms.

The group meet every week in a deprived part of the capital Amman’s downtown district to discuss what part they can play in Jordan. They aim to peacefully monitor the parliament, connect with international institutions in order to combat crimes against civilians, and create awareness and opportunities for young people to become part of decision making. Ultimately the Jordanian Youth Parliament provides a platform on which people can confer about their role in achieving reform in Jordan.

Almost 3,000 Jordanians over 18 voted in candidates on lists under quirky names such as ‘National Bankruptcy’, ‘Jordanian Refugees in Jordan,’ ‘Times are Bad,’ and ‘Red Indians.’ These slogans are said to represent how Facebook party members feel in Jordan today; the Red Indians, for example, identify with the marginalised American Indians.

Members are derived from across the political spectrum; they have nationalist, leftist and Islamist roots, though within this parliament they do not promote themselves as being from any these political parties. Instead they group under the oath, “I swear by Almighty God to be loyal to the homeland and the people.”

Here the youth parliament is unique in that it is the first political body which symbolises and represents the plurality of opinions that resonate among young people in Jordan today.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.