How can politics work without parties?
A parliamentary vote of confidence is generally a very political act. But in the absence of political parties, the current parliamentary debate preceding the vote has taken on a whole new look. Instead of a political discussion, the debate, which allows every Member of Parliament to speak for 15 minutes and every parliamentary block to speak for up to 30 minutes, has become a useless event of one-upmanship.
MPs, most of whom will most likely vote confidence in Omar Razzaz’s government, line up to find a fault in the government and to make requests for their constituencies. The newly appointed prime minister and his government have to sit in and take notes as members complain and demand in what looks like a political souk aired on national TV and on a local radio station.
Without parties, every one of 130 MPs becomes a party, making demands and trying to find ways to help his or her constituency, regardless of the national good.
Ironically, one of the more substantive speeches given during the marathon debate came from Dima Tahboub, who belongs to the only party that exists in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front.
It is not clear why political parties have failed in Jordan despite the existence of over 50 registered as such. Some blame the absence on the ever-changing election law that generally favours tribal communities rather than political parties. Others say that without political activity on college and university campuses, parties cannot succeed. The law does not ban political activities, but the various university administrations ban political activities on their own, despite the fact that the public ones are appointed by the government. Even His Majesty King Abdullah has spoken out about his support for political activities on campus, but to no avail.
A recent move to merge many of the small parties into blocs could provide a chance for the existence of three or four major party blocs that can reflect the political diversity that is needed to have a healthy political discussion.
One of the problems facing political parties is that they lack a serious internal democratic process for how leadership is chosen. Many have the same secretaries general since their creation, even though the system has not produced parties that can send their own elected representatives to Parliament.
When elections for the decentralised councils were inaugurated, some were hoping that adding a new forum for which parties can compete would produce a breakthrough, but, for the most part, the newly elected governorate councils were made up in the same family and tribal groupings that MPs are made up of.
Political parties are very successful in a similar Arab country with the same structure as Jordan. Morocco, a monarchy like Jordan, enjoys historic political parties, which compete for membership in parliament and for the positions of prime minister and members of the Cabinet.
The current speech marathon in Parliament will soon end. Most of the members who spoke against the government of Razzaz will end up voting for it, with the hope that maybe some of their demands will be heeded by the new government. Most will not.
What Razzaz and his government can do is to institute real political reform that can help usher in serious efforts to turn the current charade into a serious process, in which members debate national policy issues rather than making personal demands.