Jordan's general elections mark a return to proportional representation

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is located in the heart of the Middle East, in a region that is often termed the Levant. Jordan’s neighbouring countries include Iraq to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south, Israel and Palestine to the west and Syria to the north. In total, Jordan covers 89,342 sq km of land and shares 1635 km of land border with Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. In the south, Jordan has access to the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aqaba. The kingdom’s topography can be divided into three distinct sections. First is the Jordan Valley, which is part of the Great Rift Valley and runs from north to south in the western part of the kingdom. Second is the highlands, an area that runs north to south in central Jordan. The third section is the Badia, or Syrian/ Jordanian Steppe, a desert in the eastern portion of the country that runs to the Iraqi border.

Population & Demographics

According to the Department of Statistics and the latest census, Jordan’s population reached 9.5m by the end of 2015. This figure has been reached as a result of the recent influx refugees from neighbouring countries, with non-Jordanians accounting for 30.6% of the total population. Due to the crisis in Syria, Jordan has received more than 1.3m Syrians, who account for almost half of the non-Jordanian population. Jordan is also a young country, with the largest group being children aged 5-9.

Main Cities

With a very small portion – less than 6% – of the total population living in rural areas, the kingdom’s population is primarily concentrated in cities. The three largest urban centres are Amman, Irbid and Zarqa. Amman, the capital and economic hub, is located in the north-west of the country, with more than 4m people living within the predominantly urban Amman governorate. In 2015 this governorate accounted for more than 42% of Jordan’s total population, according to the results of the 2015 census. Irbid Governorate, the capital of which is the university town of the same name and which lies around 60 km north of Amman, has a population approaching 1.7m. The third major city, Zarqa, is located north-east of Amman, and is increasingly becoming known as Jordan’s industrial centre. Its governorate has a population of over 1.3m and constitutes nearly 15% of the population.

These three regions contain around 75% of Jordan’s total population, with the remaining 25% dispersed throughout the other nine governorates. As Jordan’s sole port city, Aqaba is an important infrastructural node, lying in the south of the country on the coast of the Red Sea. Its governorate, which has a population of 188,160, has been transformed over the past decade, witnessing significant developments in the transport, industrial and tourism sectors.

Historical Background

The monarchs of Jordan belong to the Hashemite dynasty, which traces its genealogy back to the Prophet Muhammad. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has officially been an independent sovereign state since 1946, and King Abdullah I was the country’s first monarch. King Abdullah I’s son, Talal bin Abdullah, succeeded his father to the throne in 1951, but ruled for only a short period of time, abdicating in 1952 in favour of his son, Hussein, for health reasons. Becoming king at the age of 16, King Hussein ruled Jordan for 47 years until his death in 1999. Under his leadership, Jordan witnessed a number of transformative events both domestically and regionally. He also presided over broad political and economic liberalisation policies. These efforts included the lifting of martial law, the legalisation of political parties and the holding of the country’s first elections in decades.

In 1999 King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein ascended to the throne. King Abdullah II is married to Queen Rania and they have four children – Crown Prince Hussein, Princess Iman, Princess Salma and Prince Hashem. The 17 years of King Abdullah II’s rule have seen a continuation of his father’s commitment to economic and political reform. Revisions made to more than one-third of the constitution in 2011 led to greater pluralism, stability, social inclusion, liberalisation and transparency.

Religion

Approximately 92% of Jordanians are Sunni Muslim, while around 3% are Christian. Most Christians in the country subscribe to Greek Orthodox beliefs, and they are free to practise throughout the kingdom. As in many other nations, religion plays a key role in Jordanian culture and everyday life. As the Hashemites trace their lineage directly to Prophet Muhammad, this gives King Abdullah II a special standing within the Muslim community. Moreover, there are many religiously significant sites throughout the kingdom. These include Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the location where Jesus is said to have been baptised and a recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list in July 2015, and Mount Nebo, the site where it is said Moses was given a view of the Promised Land. As a result, there are ongoing efforts to boost interest in religious tourism and pilgrimages.

Language & Culture

Arabic is the official language of the kingdom and is used in the education system, media, literature, formal occasions and official communication. The local dialect is spoken in daily life and is often referred to as Levantine Arabic. It shares many similarities with the colloquial Arabic spoken throughout the region, as well as with the Egyptian and Saudi dialects. English is also widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in urban areas, and is commonly used in business. Moreover, English is taught in many schools throughout Jordan.

Jordanian culture is mainly derived from the tradition and customs of the Bedouin, an Arab group descended from nomadic desert tribes. Bedouin traditions such as storytelling, poetry and singing are still important within contemporary Jordanian culture. Another characteristic of Jordanian society is its welcoming hospitality; this is often correlated with the Bedouin custom of always accepting visitors due to the harsh conditions of the desert. Such Bedouin values remain a key part of Jordanian society and maintain considerable influence.

Political Framework

Since King Abdullah II ascended to the throne, Jordan has been engaged in an ongoing political reform process with the objective of promoting a greater role for citizens in politics and allowing for differing perspectives to be included in the decision-making process. The parliament is bicameral and is known as the National Assembly. The body comprises two chambers the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives is made up of 130 popularly elected deputies who serve four-year terms. The Senate has 75 seats, each of which is appointed by the king for four-year terms.

In September 2016 Jordan held a general election – the first to be contested in a form of proportional representation since 1989. During the spring of 2016, the system to elect officials to the House of Representatives was altered back to a list-based system from a one-vote system, which systematically disadvantaged political parties. The new electoral bill also divided the kingdom into 23 electoral districts, one for each of the 12 governorates, except for Amman which was split into five districts, Irbid into four and Zarqa into two. A new 65-member senate, was appointed in order to adhere to the new election laws. In addition the Islamic Action Front, a political party that had previously boycotted the elections, won 15 seats; however, the majority of the new MPs are individuals with either tribal or business affiliations, which has been common in Jordan.

Another key institution is the Royal Hashemite Court, which acts as a link between the king and state bodies such as the parliament, army and security forces. The Royal Hashemite Court plays an important role in communicating the king’s vision and guidance to the government. Hani Al Mulki has been prime minister since May 2016. The king chooses the prime minister following consultations with Parliament, which also has the power to grant or deny the government a vote of confidence. The current prime minister has a Cabinet of 29 ministers, 22 of whom are from the previous interim Cabinet. The government also created the post of minister of the investment sector, minister of state for economic affairs and minister for foreign affairs.

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