The 2017 local elections: A test for representative democracy

The first elections of the governorate and local councils are expected to take place in August 2017, and have raised high hopes that the needs of local communities, in particular those of vulnerable groups, will be better represented in public life. The first significant change that must be noted is an increasing number of elected local representatives. Whereas the number of elected representatives in the governorate council is to be determined by specific regulations (Article 3, DL), the 2015 ML stresses that the number of representatives in the municipal councils should be no fewer than seven members, including the mayor, and that there shall be no fewer than five members per local council (Article 3). However, it remains to be seen whether or not a higher number of elected local authorities will indeed increase legitimacy and citizens’ trust in the government.

Previous election rounds at the municipal level in Jordan were held in 1995, 2007 and 2013, and point to a downward trend in voter turnout (from 50% to 30% between 2007 and 2013). The very low turnout in Amman (10.5% in 2013) accounts for much of the weak participation in the past (Al Monitor, 2013). Since 2007, elections have been supervised by the Independent Elections Commission. Understanding the factors that shape voter turnout in local elections is critical for tailoring awareness campaigns and similar activities to specific groups in society, in particular the disengaged. Box 4.9 presents evidence from New Zealand and other OECD countries in this regard.

Box 4.9. Factors shaping turnout in local elections: The example of New Zealand

Low turnout in local government elections is a challenge that Jordan shares with many OECD member countries. In New Zealand, for instance, average voter turnout in local elections is approximately 30% less than turnout for parliamentary elections.

A study conducted by Local Government New Zealand identifies some of the factors shaping turnout in local elections in New Zealand. The study sheds light on structural issues, as well as the characteristics of the population that can influence voter behaviour.

The study finds that:

  • • Turnout tends to be higher in local governments with smaller populations. Between 2010 and 2013, voter turnout in metropolitan councils (more than 90 000 inhabitants) and provincial councils (20 000-90 000) decreased, while it increased in rural councils (fewer than 20 000), where turnout already tended to be higher in 2010.
  • • Participation in local elections increases with age. The pattern that younger voters are less likely to cast their vote than the electorate in general has been discussed before (OECD, 2016c). For instance, in OECD countries, voter turnout among 18-to-24 year- olds in national parliamentary elections is, on average, 17% lower than for adults aged 25 to 50 inclusive. Relative turnout among young people is particularly low in France, the Slovak Republic, Estonia, and the United Kingdom.

The findings add to international research suggesting that voting tends to be associated with higher levels of education, property ownership or at least having lived at the same address for a reasonable length of time and civic education/awareness.

The analysis also finds that, from an international perspective, turnout tends to be higher in systems in which local government has a large range of responsibilities and functions, compared to systems which have a small number of responsibilities. This pattern suggests that the incentive for citizens to invest time into comparing candidates, casting the ballot and monitoring the performance of local authorities is positively related to the “salience”, which describes the role and the relevance of the local government.

Sources: Local Government New Zealand (n.d.), Local democracy: Quick facts, www. act-sheet-16 .pdf;

OECD (2016c), CO4.2: Participation rates of first-time voters, OECD, Paris, 4 2 Participation first time voters.pdf.

The 2015 DL introduces a 10% quota for women in the elected govemorate councils. The Cabinet may appoint 15% of the number of elected members, provided that one-third of appointed candidates are women. In the municipal councils, which will be composed of the members of the local councils who obtained the highest votes, at least 25% of its members must be women.

Candidates of the elected councils must be at least 25-years-old, and, in the case of the govemorate councils, have been Jordanian for at least ten years. The minimum age is considerably higher than for most OECD countries, such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, in which citizens can run for office in regional and local elections once they reach 18. According to the CIA World Factbook, around 55% (2015) of the population are below 25, therefore, this criteria risks undermining the fair representation of the specific demands and needs of young men and women. Initiatives to enhance youth participation in electoral processes (e.g. organisation of school parliaments), such as by Afaq Jordan for Development and Training, a youth organisation based in the governorate of Al Mafraq, are critical for supporting a young generation to become active citizens with the skills to hold local representatives to account. The existing infrastructure at local level (e.g. youth centres) and programmes (e.g. youth parliaments are operational in some governorates) could be used more effectively to raise awareness and encourage young people to run.

The quota for women in the governorate and municipal councils guarantees a welcome minimum level of inclusive representation, which can contribute to changing traditional norms and perceptions. The current practice in the elected municipal councils shows that despite a significant under-representation of women, the gender gap tends to be considerably smaller than in centralised government bodies. In 2014, for instance, the average gender gap in the municipal councils was 44% (72.2% men; 27.8% women) compared to 78% in the Cabinet, 76% in the House of Representatives, and 56% in Labour Unions (Department of Statistics, 2014).

Figure 4.1. Gender gap in local councils in Jordan (2014)

Note: Gender gap = (%) Male - (%) Female.

Source: OECD’s own work based on: Department of Statistics (2014), Gender gap, home e/main/population/gender/policv/2014/10.pdf.

Elected councils may offer new avenues for the representation of marginalised groups in society. For voters to make an informed choice, in particular those with little experience or interest in democratic procedures and less educated groups, they must have a thorough understanding of why their participation in elections matters. As trust in and the satisfaction with the performance of elected representatives in the national parliament tends to be low in Jordan, awareness campaigns should be organised well ahead of the elections to foster broad participation.

Despite efforts to foster the creation of political parties through the 2015 Election Law, tribal affiliations tend to determine the voting preference, particularly in more rural areas. Experiences in the past have led to some scepticism as to whether the opportunity to elect representatives at the governorate and district levels will fundamentally change this pattern. It must be noted that the elected councils will not automatically lead to a fairer and more equal representation of citizens’ needs.

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