Jordan’s elections are a beacon of hope in a troubled region

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This past Tuesday, nearly 1.5 million Jordanians went to the polls to vote in peaceful parliamentary elections that ran smoothly and efficiently. It’s unfortunate that the elections didn’t receive more coverage — not only because they offer good news in a region too often dominated by extremism, civil war and authoritarianism, but also because the U.S.-Jordan relationship is a pillar of our overall policy in the region.

{mosads}I had the opportunity to observe these elections as part of a joint delegation hosted by the International Republican Institute (where I am president) and the National Democratic Institute. We were impressed by the government’s commitment to an inclusive electoral process, all the more so because of the daunting challenges facing the Hashemite Kingdom.

Jordan may not have succumbed to the turmoil roiling its neighbors, but it hasn’t escaped unscathed either. From the uptick in terrorist attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to the enormous financial and social pressures of its 1 million-plus Syrian refugee population, Jordan is under an extraordinary level of pressure. Add to this an unemployment rate hovering around 15 percent, and youth unemployment estimated to be as high as 30 percent, and one could easily forecast dire scenarios for this small, resource-challenged country.

That’s why these elections were crucial: They demonstrated the country’s commitment to confronting these challenges through the ballot box.

Tuesday’s elections brought some significant developments, including a new electoral law and the controversial re-entry of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front (IAF) into electoral politics. Yet neither the electorate nor the government sought sweeping changes through this contest — and at a time of internal and external pressures, procedural improvements to representative government in Jordan are almost certainly preferable to drastic change.

That’s not to suggest that these elections were entirely spotless. At 37 percent, voter turnout was less than impressive — likely a consequence of the disillusionment many seem to have with parliament’s ability to effect change. This sentiment was accurately diagnosed in a recent International Republican Institute (IRI) poll. The persistence of voting along tribal lines rather than for specific policies and platforms has entrenched an apathy towards most politics. There appears to be a political culture in which the people are not effectively communicating their needs to the parliament, and the parliament is not presenting solutions that engage the public.

Going forward, as Jordan attempts to address the challenges it faces, it must find ways to forge a direct relationship between electoral outcomes, the composition of the next government, and a clear, action-oriented platform for government reform and economic growth.

Engaging Jordan’s young people in the decision-making process is also critical both to the country’s overall progress and to countering the extremism that has devastated so much of the region. For example, IRI’s Youth Leadership Academy trains young Jordanians in negotiation, advocacy, political activism and policy analysis — helping to build the skills needed to become the next generation of democratic actors in their communities and countries. However, in a country where 70 percent of the population is under 30, tapping into youth isn’t just a matter of preparing for the future; it’s about meeting the needs of the present as well.

The U.S. and other democracies should stand ready to support Jordan as it continues its journey on the path of democracy. There is much work to be done, and many challenges to be faced — but for now, it’s worth taking a moment to congratulate the Jordanian people on doing their part to build a better future for their country.

Green is president of the International Republican Institute, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and former member of congress representing Wisconsin’s 8th District.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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