x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Royal decree dissolves Jordan's parliament

Poll shows two thirds of people are dissatisfied with the lower chamber's performance as another edict calls for early elections.

Two member of the dissolved Jordanian parliament greet each other at the offices in Amman yesterday.
Two member of the dissolved Jordanian parliament greet each other at the offices in Amman yesterday.

AMMAN // Former members of parliament started clearing their offices and exchanging their duty-free car licence plates for regular ones yesterday, a day after King Abdullah dissolved the 110-member lower house chamber, which was halfway through its four-year term. This is the second time since 2001 that King Abdullah has dissolved parliament.

The move comes amid growing public discontent as opinion polls show that nearly two thirds of Jordanians are not satisfied with the parliament's performance. The royal decree became effective yesterday and another royal edict called for early parliamentary elections. It was not clear when the new elections would take place, but according to the country's constitution, a new parliament has to convene in four months. However, if no election were to take place within that time, the dissolved house will get back its constitutional powers.

"It was an unexpected move," said Mamdouh Abbadi, a member of parliament. "But at the same time, it was comforting. The decision has cleansed parliament of the opportunists and those with political money who have harmed the country's image. We are hoping that there will be elections under a new electoral law that would be fair to the entire Jordanian social fabric." The country's 15th parliament, composed mostly of tribal loyalists, got off to a shaky start. Since it was elected in November 2007, the Islamists, whose number fell from 17 to six, claimed vote rigging.

The National Centre for Human Rights also questioned the results of the election in a report last year and pointed to violations committed before and during the polling. A survey carried out in April by the Al Quds Centre for Political Studies, a local think tank, found that only 33.23 per cent of Jordanians were satisfied with the performance of the lower house. But Jihad al Mansi, parliament correspondent with Alghad daily, said this parliament did not get the chance to improve its ratings. "It's predecessor managed to improve its public opinion polls towards the end of its tenure. As a government watchdog, this parliament's role was weak, but it could have improved its image had it served its full term.

"This parliament went through several phases, from being contained by government and then into rebelling against it. It was seen as a service-oriented parliament and that's why people were dissatisfied." Legislators have criticised the executive in recent months as it struggled to reduce the country's budget deficit, which climbed to more than US$1.3 billion (Dh4.77bn) during the first 10 months of this year.

"They stood against the government's amendments pertaining to the social security law and a new income tax law," al Mansi said. "The government withdrew the laws, and it could be one of the reasons that led to parliament's downfall." Some analysts expressed concern that if the elections were delayed the government would take advantage of the legislative vacuum and enact controversial economic laws.

It remains unclear whether the elections will take place under a new electoral law. The current law is believed to favour tribal affiliation at the expense of political considerations and undermines the representation of areas heavily populated by Jordanians of Palestinian origin in a country where they make up about 50 per cent of the population. "The political standing of the majority of parliamentarians was very lacking," said Mustafa Hamarneh, a political analyst and publisher of Al Sijill, a political monthly magazine.

Mr Hamarneh is preparing to run for elections again after he lost in 2007. "To correct what took place two years ago and to have a genuinely democratic move, we have to have free and transparent elections, a committee to oversee the elections. There should also be amendments to the current electoral law." The king's move was hailed in Jordan, particularly on websites. Khaberni.com, a local news website which spearheaded a campaign against parliament, said in an article that Jordanians were celebrating "the best piece of news" and the king's "wise decision".

The article also poked fun at the work carried out by MPs over the past two years, depicting their going back and forth to the prime minister's office to ask for salary raises, better health insurance, university seats for their children and more perks in exchange for dropping the discussion on certain issues and passing some laws and regulations. "And now that the nightmare is over, I cannot but say thank you your majesty and congratulation to our good people," the Kharberni.com editorial said.