Reform Needs to Boycott ... Boycott!

AP Photo/Nader Daoud
By Manar Rachwani

According to Jordan’s Minister of Political Development Musa Maaytah, the Islamic Movement of Jordan would have won at least 20 out of 120 seats of the Lower House of Parliament, if it had not decided to boycott elections. But from the point of view of the Islamic Movement such claims, although supported by the Jordanian Centre for Strategic Studies, have no foundations. 

This is, of course, not because the most, if not the only, organized party in Jordan lacks popularity, but because of the controversial election law(s) that was enacted by the government since 1993 to weaken the opposition in parliament. More importantly, such doubt is strongly supported by a history of government and security intervention in elections, which reached its peak in the 2007 Elections, when only six out of 22 candidates of the Islamic Movement won seats in the Lower House.

Thus, even if one agreed that the 2010 Elections were fair, such a result was only possible because of the absence of the threat of the Islamic Movement. Nevertheless, it is still true that boycotting elections was a mistake, for the same reasons that are used to justify it.

The Islamic Movement mistakenly believed that it would be able to compensate for its absence by extensive activities that would not only justify its position on elections, but also provide it with tools to submit its vision on the desirable change in the country. In this way, the Movement hoped to delegitimize the elections and its results.

Unfortunately for the Islamic Movement, such dreams did not come true!

Whilst it used a history of government and security intervention to justify its decision, the Movement was expecting naively the government to show tolerance towards activities aimed at mobilizing people to boycott elections! Furthermore, the Movement weakened its position by failing to convince other opposition parties (except one) to embrace its call for boycotting elections.

At this point it becomes clear that the losses of the Islamic Movement go further beyond the number of seats it would have won in elections. And it is an important lesson for Arab opposition parties in general if they are serious about starting a real reform in the Arab world.

It is safe to say that boycotting any election because of fear of fraud, real or imagined, leads only to aid the mission of any regime to guarantee the outcomes of the election. As a result, the regime will not only keep absolute control over political, economic and social processes, but will also be able to promote its image and legitimacy abroad for holding “free” elections!

On another level, if we agree that what is at stake is not the number of seats won in any election, but reform in general, then it becomes absolutely true that election itself constitutes a rare opportunity for any political party or group to speak out loudly and challenge the ruling regime, to address the public opinion, domestically and abroad, and to submit its vision and programmes on reform (if there is any!).

The bottom line is that boycotting elections, on any level, means only boycotting reform. However, seizing such opportunities requires a real and implementable vision and programme, and it is this that constitutes the real challenge to opposition parties in the Arab world.   


7 December 2010


Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nader Daoud