(MENAFN - Jordan Times) The Jordanian Parliament is debating a new law to regulate political parties.
The law is part of a package of measures to implement the government's commitment to political reform. The long-term aim is to meet His Majesty's vision of a small number of parties with programmes based on ideology to the right, left and centre of the political spectrum.
The importance of political parties in Europe was brought home to me last week with the visit of seven members of parliament from Westminster. They represented the three main parties in the United Kingdom: Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat.
During their visit, they described how parties mobilise themselves from the bottom up, with local associations who knock on doors and hand out leaflets but who also have a say in the way policy is initiated, discussed and decided. Each and every member of the party has a voice and can influence policy.
Some of the benefits of the party system to our country are that: it generates an in-depth debate about policy on the things that really matter to ordinary voters: health, education, taxation; it offers a channel through which ordinary people who want to be politically active can have their say; it ensures that governments, once elected, have a policy platform that enjoys majority support and a body of ministers intent on implementing an agreed set of measures.
Of course, the British or European party systems are not models for Jordan or for any other country in the Middle East struggling to adapt its democracy in response to popular demand.
Each country has to develop its own democratic structures starting from its own history, culture and traditions, and work from grass roots level upwards. No one from outside should dictate the conditions for political reform in Jordan. It is up to Jordanians.
Countries can always learn from the experience of others, so open dialogue and exchange of best practice can be useful, if people want it. There are, of course, risks; changing a culture steeped in tradition can be difficult. But if people want debate and an open discussion of policy rather than slogans and personalities, then political parties designed with the local circumstances in mind can play an important role.
Some might view political parties with a degree of cynicism. A humorist once said: "Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to prove that the other is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right."
But the better quote is: "He serves his party best who serves his country best."
By encouraging debate on policy, parties serve the best interests of the people - all the people.
The writer is the British ambassador to Amman. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.