Some Jordanians Say Gerrymandering Makes For An Unfair Election

Robert Siegel speaks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh about his country's elections and the concerns about Syrian refugees who are coming into Jordan.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There's also an election in Jordan this week. It's today. And joining us now is Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. Welcome to the program, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER NASSER JUDEH: Thank you. Great to talk to you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Jordanians like to say that they've somehow avoided the tumult of the Arab Spring. But you've had protests, you have parties boycotting the elections, you have complaints that Jordanian elections are run in such a way to favor the so-called East Bankers, the Bedouin tribes that back the king. How fair is today's election going to be?

JUDEH: Well, the ballot boxes have just closed. The - and today's election, I think, has been a milestone in terms of the procedure leading up to the elections, the transparency and the openness of the election process itself. And democracy, at the end of the day, Robert, is about participation not boycott. You mentioned some parties that boycotted, but the vast majority of Jordanians went out and cast their vote today to exercise their constitutional right. Don't forget that...

SIEGEL: But, you know, the complaint is in part that the districts that they vote in are drawn in such a way as to under-represent those West Bankers, the people descended from families of Palestinians who...

JUDEH: Well, I think...

SIEGEL: ...fled from Israel or the West Bank to Jordan.

JUDEH: I think you have to wait a couple of hours until the votes are counted, and then we'll be able to judge that. But I can tell you for sure that there's no gerrymandering that is designed to do that whatsoever by anybody. And don't forget that this time around, for the first time in Jordan's electoral history, you have an independent electoral commission that has not only overseen the preparations for the elections but conducted the elections themselves.

Now, this is a body that's totally independent - does not report to the government, does not report to parliament, does not report to the judiciary, even. Totally independent, has its own rules and mandated to carry out these elections.

SIEGEL: Foreign Minister Judeh, I'd like you to talk a bit about your refugee problem. Jordan has 300,000 new arrivals from Syria. The population of the country is about six million, so it's an additional five percent of the population. How long can they remain in your country? Until when?

JUDEH: Well, I mean, hopefully, until the situation in Syria is resolved and they can go back to their homes and to their livelihoods. I mean, the numbers, particularly in the last three or four days, have been alarming. We have, on average, about four, 5,000 people coming in every day. And you're absolutely right. It's over 300,000 Syrians who have come into Jordan since March 2011.

At the end of the day, a political decision to allow them in because they're seeking a safe haven is still in place, but it doesn't come without a cost to our already burdened economy.

SIEGEL: But when you speak of those Syrian refugees remaining in Jordan - until the situation is resolved in Syria - when you think in terms of resolution, what does that mean, Bashar al-Assad is thrown out, or the war that might erupt after he's thrown out is settled and peace returns to all of Syria?

JUDEH: Well, we - our position is very, very clear, Robert, and has been constant. And that is that we believe in the political solution that ends the violence immediately, that marks the beginning of a transition where Syrians decide on their future which hopefully will be a pluralistic, open, democratic Syria and where everybody is included.

SIEGEL: Foreign Minister, one last question about what we at least used to call the Arab Spring. Do you really think that the hereditary monarchy in Jordan, and with its authority over the elected parliament, can really survive the wave of democratization movements and rebellions that Arab countries have witnessed from North Africa all the way to the Persian Gulf?

JUDEH: I beg to differ with your description of hereditary monarchy that controls parliament. In Jordan, at least, the hereditary monarchy does not control parliament. There's a clear separation of powers.

SIEGEL: But can't he and the appointed upper chamber, can't they override the vote of the people's elected assembly?

JUDEH: The - well, the elected House of Representatives is the one that hopefully will bring about a parliamentary government. And at the end of the day, the government has to gain the vote of confidence of the elected house, not the senate, which is appointed. And secondly, which is most important, I think, it is the king who is leading the reform process here. It is the king who is saying that we want to see a parliamentary government that is elected by the people taking shape and running the affairs of the country.

So the king does not have a holdover parliament, and governments from now on will be parliamentary governments.

SIEGEL: Well, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, thank you very much for talking with us today.

JUDEH: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: And Minister Judeh spoke to was from Amman, the Jordanian capital.

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