Today (Tuesday, November 9th) was election day in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Like in America, the fall has been “election season” and politics have been in the air. Quite literally, actually. As it turns out Jordanian elections are preceded by weeks of banners being strung up across every major thoroughfare and on every light pole, palm tree, and street sign.
Political banners have lined the streets in Amman for weeks
Who would you vote for?
For weeks the pictures of these politicians have been our constant driving companions. Back and forth to work and school we have spent time with them every day. As outsiders we really have no idea about any of the candidates or their positions. Our opinions have been 100% formed by our impressions of the candidates based on their posters. It’s probably a good thing that we are not voting. Many candidates proudly put their job title on their posters. The Lawyer, The Professor, The Engineer, The Doctor. My favorite for awhile was The Gardner – I thought he was a man of the people. But I found out “The Gardner” was his last name. Oh well. And, as it turned out the old adage that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover is true. Two of our favorite candidates (based on their congenial smiles and general good looks) turned out to be duds. One is apparently very wealthy and corrupt and the other is ….. drum roll please . . . . . the father of the classroom bully at my son’s school.
This saddened us as many of the other candidates seemed as though they were badly in need of style consultants.
We often found ourselves saying, “Your staff really told you that was the best picture they had of you!?!?” Over the weeks we developed some slogans for the candidates based on their looks:
“What? I am smiling!”
“Vote for me, I look like your Uncle Lenny”
“Vote for me, I’m not as dumb as I look”
“Vote for me, or I will break your neck”
“Hey baby, call me, I’m still rich even though I wasted money on all these posters”
“What? Oh, yes – trust me. No really, trust me.”
These slogans were probably much more amusing in the moment of driving past myriads of posters. Forgive me for not posting the exact pics with the exact slogans – even though election day is all but over I wouldn’t want any unnecessary flack, if you know what I mean.
Along the way we did learn a little bit about Jordanian politics. Elections are held for the lower house of parliament. To my understanding these are the only elected officials in the national government. (The upper house and all government ministers are appointed by the King). There are 110 “deputies” in the lower house representing 10 or 12 electoral districts. 9 or 10 seats are apparently reserved for Christians and a few for Circassians and a handful for women. There are a number of political parties, but I never was able to sort out any of their major positions. As it turns out Jordanians tend to be a bit cynical about their elected officials. The word on the street seemed to be that everyone in the election was either wealthy or crooked, or both. Sounds a lot like back home, right?
Inside a candidate's HQ/rally tent
During election season candidates put up huge tents that serve as their election HQs. They hold rallies in these tents, hand out literature, and if you bring your car you can have it outfitted with posters of the candidate. The one thing that ties all of these HQs together is the presence of at least one if not two or three or four GIANT pictures of the King. One candidate used an entire hillside to erect huge signs honoring the King and the royal family.
Buses for a candidate, ready to transport voters, parked under a giant poster of HM King Abdullah II.
On election day the candidates send out fleets of buses to pick up voters and take them to the polls. Rumors are that some (if not many) of the candidates actually pay voters to ride on the buses. I was unable to confirm this, but it seemed to be a widely held belief. Apparently one of the Christian candidates lost in the last parliamentary election because he refused to “buy” votes in this manner. The polls tend to be at schools – and actually may exclusively be at schools. Today as we were driving around people lined the streets leading up to schools handing out posters and business cards of the candidates. Giant posters of candidates were plastered all over the walls of the schools. Apparently fine-tuned laws forbidding campaigning within a certain distance of polling places doesn’t exist.
We received a warning from the US Embassy about possible election related violence today and we kind of laughed about it. Election violence, in Jordan? But as it turns out there was a fair amount of low scale rough-and-tumble shenanigans between supporters of certain candidates and in some cases even candidates themselves. In Karak the governor apparently exiled an entire tribe due to election day troubles. I’m not even sure what that means. A prominent Jordanian blogger gives the blow-by-blow on some of these goings on over at Black Iris, http://www.black-iris.com/2010/11/09/live-updates-of-jordans-2010-parliament-elections/
Jordan Times also has a report here: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/41VgXx/jordantimes.com/?news=31704/r:f
Truth be told we saw and heard none of this and there is a polling place right across the street from us – so please no e-mails inquiring as to our health and safety during the raucous 2010 Jordanian parliamentary elections!
I know this is a fairly low-brow look at the elections, but, honestly, I’m a bit burnt out on politics and haven’t had the time or energy to invest in understanding the system here. I guess I’ve reserved my right to remain an outsider and make off-hand comments with my son about political posters as we drive to school each day. So I will leave you with this slideshow, “Faces of Jordanian Politics”
Note: If you hover over the bottom of the slide show box you should get controls to go forward or back or stop the pictures. Enjoy!
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: cross-cultural experiences, Crossing Cultures, Intercultural Notes, Jordan Headlines, Politics, politics | 1 Comment »