Amid public discontent, concerns about Syria spillover, and an influx of refugees, Jordan faces parliamentary elections on January 23 that are unlikely to ameliorate the growing political and economic frustration among its citizens, according to a new issue brief released by Danya Greenfield, deputy director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. To mark the release of this new policy brief, “Jordan’s Electoral Environment and Prospects for Change” the Hariri Center held an event on Thursday, January 17 that featured commentary from Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya, Mohammed Hussainy, director of the Integrity Center based in Jordan, and was moderated by Michele Dunne, director of the Hariri Center.

Greenfield noted that with the coming of the Arab Spring, King Abdullah II had missed a valuable opportunity to pass meaningful electoral reform. Rather than implementing a more ambitious reform plan that many had hoped for, the King opted for a more cautious approach that was seen as insufficient and that failed to assuage the anger felt by those of Jordanian opposition and his traditional support base, the East Bankers. Greenfield and Hussainy agreed that by increasing the transparency of the election and vote counting process, the reforms did offer some progress. However, in failing to implement a framework that allows for establishment of strong political parties – something the King himself has said are a necessary step and one that he wished to achieve – the reforms fell far short of what was needed.

Given Jordan’s location in the middle of such a volatile yet strategically important neighborhood, Melhem stressed the importance of reducing the current unrest in Jordan and ensuring that the tumult in Syria does not spread to the Kingdom. He explained that with Jordan playing the role of “buffer state” for the Saudis by shielding them from the troubles of the Levant, managing their long border with Israel, and being a key regional ally for the US, there are many in the world that have a vested interest in seeing a stabilized Jordan. Melhem acknowledged that the actions needed to achieve such stabilization are fraught with peril and difficulty. Nevertheless he believes that what Jordan needs more than anything is strong leadership from King Abdullah, along the lines of what his father provided, in order to overcome this period and preserve Jordan’s importance in the region.