“[A]s political development is the gateway to the full participation of all segments of the grassroots and civil society institutions in the various aspects of the development process, I assert here that political development should start at the grassroots level, then move up to decision-making centres, and not vice-versa.”

Jordan Elections - Amman

REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Twelve years after the remarks of King Abdullah II, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is taking an important step in its effort to promote a more bottom-up approach to local service delivery and economic development.

On 15 August, the country of 10 million will hold elections for municipal and governorates councils. More than 6,000 candidates have registered to participate in the elections which observers say will be key to Jordan’s broader aim to decentralise local economic development and encourage more public participation at subnational levels.

Following the enactment of the Decentralisation and Municipality Law in 2015, The Hague Academy for Local Governance has been partnering with four ministries to assist Jordan with its efforts towards local empowerment as part of the Local Government Resilience Programme (LOGOReP) led by VNG International.

Over the course of the past year, Emmely Benschop and Lars Burema of The Hague Academy have trained and coached a group of more than 35 high-level and mid-career officials. This group recently delivered nine pilot trainings throughout the country, each in an effort to raise awareness about local economic development best practices and prepare leaders, particularly women and youth, at subnational levels for the greater involvement of the citizens.

“These elections are a first step in the process of bringing decision-making authority closer to the people in Jordan,” said Lars Burema, program manager with The Hague Academy.

“Once elected, the local council members will be able to influence the prioritisation of the local needs, which could lead to more responsive governance in this diverse country. However, the real challenge will be to turn this vision into reality and for the higher tiers of government to take these priorities into account in the budget allocations”.

Jordan - Local Gov pilot trainings

Photo: The Hague Academy

Critics have expressed doubts about Jordan’s commitment to democratisation, and a recent study found that a significant number of Jordanians are “uninformed and ill-prepared” for the upcoming local and municipal elections.

Furthermore, concerns persist about the impact of corruption and tribalism. Many Jordanians perceive corruption as a widespread epidemic and fear the newly elected councilors will abuse their positions to further their own interest instead of the common good. Also, they expect that people will base their votes on tribal affiliations, rather than election programs and capacity of the candidates.

But Lars and Emmely are cautiously optimistic. “I’ve been very impressed by the trainers, their professionalism and dedication. They are applying participatory methods and creating an open training environment where both men and women can feel free to discuss sensitive matters and actively contribute. Moreover, the Ministries are really committed to dedicating staff time to awareness raising and organising training for decentralisation, participation and local economic development,” said Burema.

“Everybody in Jordan that I have spoken with acknowledges that the upcoming local elections and the period to follow are first steps in a learning process.”,  said Emmely Benschop, the team leader with The Hague Academy.

“However, I don’t know any examples of a perfect decentralisation process, so perhaps it is better to start and approach it as a process of trial and error. To me, openness for critical reflection and willingness to learn is a more important predictor of success than having the perfect approach on paper. In the coming years, we hope to be able to continue to support the Jordanian Government and civil society in this learning process.”

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