x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

King of Jordan promises political reforms and parliamentary government

Recommendations pave the way for an elected prime minister based on a parliamentary majority, but observers fear that 'forces in the government not in favour of reform' because changes may undermine authority of state could interfere and see recommendations shelved.

AMMAN // King Abdullah II yesterday promised reforms leading to parliamentary government and a tougher fight against anti-corruption, at the same time warning against "chaos" and the media creating a climate of "hatred".

In his first televised address since pro-reform protests began in Jordan in January, the king pledged a new electoral law that would result in "a parliament with active political party representation" that "allows the formation of governments based on parliamentary majority … in the future". He said: "The practical approach to this meets the constitutional review now being undertaken by the royal committee I recently tasked to explore possible amendments appropriate for Jordan's present and future."

The opposition, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, wants sweeping reforms, including a new electoral law that would lead to a parliamentary system of government and elected prime minister.

But the king said "no one in Jordan has a monopoly on reform or its promotion". He added: "We seek a state of democracy, pluralism and participation through political reforms … away from the dictates of the street and the absence of the voice of reason.

Reiterating his "firm" fight against corruption, the king warned that dealing with it "on the basis of rumours and gossip... mars Jordan's reputation both regionally and internationally, negatively affecting any endeavour to attract investment".

He added: "We want a media that can carry the message of freedom and reform, optimise the accomplishments of our country and protect national unity and the relationship among Jordanians.

"I take this opportunity to warn of the deterioration of political and media discourse into one that aims to trigger hatred," the king added.

The media have reported on alleged corruption cases as well as a convicted tycoon who was allowed to leave for the United States for medical treatment, but was later spotted in a London restaurant.

The king has urged the government to "protect the innocent victims of slander and hatred," including his own family.

Since January, Jordan has been facing a protest movement demanding political and economic reforms and an end to corruption.

The king's speech comes in the wake of political reform recommendations made June 4 by the 47-member national dialogue committee, comprised of a cross-section of society, created in March.

The proposed reforms would increase the number of parliamentary seats to 130 from 120 and cut the number of people needed to form a political party to 250 from 500, with women making up at least 10 per cent.

Mohammad Masri, a pollster and an analyst with the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, said: "The recommendations are progressive if implemented. But the challenge lies in whether the government or parliament will accept them.

"There are forces in the government who are not in favour of reform because they are concerned it would produce a strong parliament and that changes may undermine the authority of the state. If these centres of power interfere, the recommendations will be shelved," he said.

In Jordan, the king has the final say on important issues, though the parliament is an elected body.

Currently, Jordan's 45 constituencies are represented by several members in parliament, but citizens can only vote for one candidate. Critics have called the system unfair because of the gerrymandering of districts. The proposed changes would give citizens two votes - one for a governorate-based candidate for one of 115 seats in the parliament, and the other to choose a representative for the 15 seats allocated nationwide.

Senator Taher Masri, head of the dialogue committee, said the recommendations pave the way for an elected prime minister based on a parliamentary majority, instead of one appointed by the king.

"But this needs time and patience," he said at a news conference on June 4. The proposed electoral law "remains controversial and not all powers in the country would agree on any electoral system".

Mamdouh Abbadi, an independent member of parliament, said the draft proposal better suits countries that have strong political parties. "The suggested electoral system suits countries that have two, three or four main political parties, but here we have only one strong group and there is no number two or three. If the amendments are approved, they will only serve the strongest party," he said.

The Islamist-led opposition also has misgivings about the proposed changes.

 

smaayeh@thenational.ae

with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse