By Mohammed Abu Dalhoum – July 16, 2021

Jordan has recently established a Royal Commission to Modernize the Political System. A subsequent elections committee held numerous meetings in early July to discuss lowering the age of candidacy for parliament from 30 to 25.

Reports from these meetings indicate that most of those present (commission members, senators and specialists) opposed lowering the age of candidacy. One senator suggested that youth aged 25-30 are politically and economically immature. He stressed “real empowerment of youth should be economic,” adding that any demands for lowering the candidacy age “are not useful at the national level.”

Jordan held its parliamentary elections in late 2020, with a low turnout rate of 29.9 percent. Trust in the parliament remains low, with about 32 percent of Jordanians indicating some level of confidence. A total of 33 percent have some level of confidence in elections and only 25 percent for political parties. An assessment of Jordanian youth’s level of confidence in these three institutions finds that they are, on average, 8 percentage points less confident compared with their counterparts in other MENA states.

The commission was established to alter this looming feeling of mistrust and political apathy. But this strong rejection of the idea of meaningful youth inclusion in political life was exactly the opposite of modernization. It reiterated a statement often directed at youth: Politics is not a place for them.

The odd thing, though, is that Jordan has zigzagged between two opposite positions in terms of youth political engagement. In 2015, the country championed the unanimous adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security, which called for engaging youth in states’ decision-making processes.

The only practical step Jordan implemented since then was lowering the age of candidacy for its 2017 decentralization and municipality elections to 25. Jordan held two parliamentary elections, in 2016 and 2020, but not only did it fail to lower the age of candidacy below 30, the subject was barely discussed.

Now that policymakers are discussing the topic, their stance reflects what can be referred to as cognitive dissonance. On the international scene, they favor youth engagement. Domestically, however, the 28.5 percent of Jordanians aged 18-30 are dubbed “politically immature” when it comes to standing for parliamentary elections.

Why should the royal commission support lowering the candidacy age of parliament to at least 25? First, youth in Jordan have always turned out to vote. Youth voter turnout (ages 17-30) reached 35.2 percent in 2016 and 33.4 percent in 2020 (3.5 percent higher than the national average). Notably, the turnout rate for those aged 17-25 was 8.3 percent higher than the national average in 2020.

Youth constitute the largest voting age group. To continue to overlook their potential impact may reflect negatively on their turnout, thus hindering democratic progress in the country.

Second, the inherent characteristics of youth as political activists perfectly correspond to the type of candidates Jordanians prefer. Polls reveal that Jordanians who abstain from voting blame their decision on the lack of candidates whose primary concern is the needs of fellow citizens.

Youth activists generally call for or address challenges and issues that are of national and/or public concern rather than representing the interests of one group, indicating that youth possess the political maturity to represent fellow citizens in the legislature.

Third, when Jordan lowered the age of candidacy for municipal elections, many candidates under 30 ran for offices. A notable young man won the seat for the mayor of Moab in the south and attracted numerous development programs for the city.

Nonetheless, youth should not be unrealistically expected to resolve all the country’s issues. However, if we want to continue progressing toward pluralism, their inclusion is a must.

Fourth, Jordan needs fresh blood in its political scene. Low levels of confidence coupled with recent political hiccups and administrative corruption, as well as economic struggles and rising unemployment rates, are weighing down on Jordanians.

Youth can perhaps tackle these challenges differently since diversity among decision-makers can improve potential solutions. Public skepticism of familiar faces translates into skepticism of their proposed policies. New and younger faces are needed to offer solutions that differ from what has been tried, tested and, unfortunately, failed.

One specialist said in those meetings that the path for youth inclusion is through political parties. While reforming political parties is equally important, the association of youth engagement with party development is problematic and dismissive of calls for youth engagement.

None of the 47 political parties in Jordan has been able to win more than five seats recently. Some abstain from participation. Their approval ratings are the lowest among all political institutions. Most importantly, diversity rarely has a place in their ranks, especially for women and youth. So, discussions of youth engagement in decision-making must be dissociated from political parties.

Finally, lowering the age of parliamentary candidacy below 30 does not necessarily mean youth can run, but it is the beginning of youth engagement in the decision-making process.

The senator mentioned earlier highlighted that youth empowerment must be economic. This is exactly where economic empowerment is needed. For instance, Jordan could drop the candidacy fees for youth, including the non-refundable registration fee of 500 dinars ($700) and 2,000 dinars for compliance with campaigning provisions.

The writer is Deputy CEO and Senior Research Analyst at NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, Mohammed Abu Dalhoum. 

This article was originally published in Arab News on July 16, 2021. For the original article source, click here