x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jordan's King Abdullah II pushes for early elections

A week after appointing a new government to replace one he deemed too slow to act on reforms, the king approved an Independent Elections Commission to oversee the polls.

AMMAN // Jordan's King Abdullah II, under pressure to meet popular demands for political changes, is pushing to hold early elections this year but his opponents say his reforms do not go far enough.

A week after appointing a new government to replace one he deemed too slow to act on reforms, the king approved an Independent Elections Commission to oversee the polls, headed by the former UN special envoy to Libya and career diplomat, Abdul Ilah Al Khatib.

"Jordan has a historic opportunity to determine its future this year," the king told lower house deputies on Monday, urging them to work with the government on laws governing political parties, elections and a constitutional court.

"All these efforts will be meaningless if they do not result in holding fair and transparent parliamentary elections before the end of this year," a palace statement quoted him as saying.

Jordanian officials insist the king is "determined and very serious" about reforms, but others, including the influential opposition Islamists, charge that steps taken to introduce political changes are still "marginal".

Laws on political parties and elections should be approved by parliament during its current session, which the king has extended to June 25 to pass key legislation.

Under the proposed laws, voters can cast three ballots: two for individual candidates in their governorates and one for a party or coalition nationwide, in line with a proportional representation system.

It scraps a contested one-person-one-vote system and increases the number of seats in parliament to 138 from 120, including an expanded quota system for women from 12 to 15.

However, only 15 seats can be contested by candidates representing political parties - the remainder are reserved for independents.

The opposition has harshly criticised the system, under which the country's 23 political parties can only field five candidates each to compete for the 15 seats.

The Islamists, trade unions and media have attacked the one-person-one-vote system adopted in 1993, which they say produces loyalist MPs who do not represent the people.

According to the constitution, elections take place every four years, but Jordan held early polls in 2010 after the king dissolved parliament.

The MP and columnist Jamil Nemri said the electoral committee was a "good step", but complained of "elusiveness" in implementing reforms.

"We say we want to reform but we are not doing anything about it. There is elusiveness in introducing real reforms. I think the electoral law and the elections represent the last test," he said.