Jordan’s new political experiment



Osama Al Sharif

Published — Wednesday 20 February 2013

Last update 20 February 2013 4:25 am

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For the first time in Jordan’s modern political history, a new process of selecting the kingdom’s next prime minister was launched this week amid confusion and speculation about the nature of the new “mechanism.” King Abdallah has asked his Chief of the Royal Court Dr. Fayez Al-Tarawneh to begin consultations with blocs and independent deputies in the newly elected Lower House to agree on a prime minister as a step toward forming a parliamentary government. The king has touted this unprecedented mechanism as the outcome of two years of political and constitutional reforms leading to full-fledged parliamentary governments in the future when political parties will replace blocs.
It is a virgin territory for Jordan’s lawmakers. In fact the whole experiment is taking place with neither side, whether it is the Royal Court or the deputies, being able to outline details of the new process. The new Lower House is dominated by independents representing tribes and small urban districts. With the exception of the moderate Islamic Wasat Party, which claims to have no less than 16 deputies, there are no effective political parties under the dome. Dr. Tarawneh, a former prime minister, will conduct consultations with nascent blocs that have been formed in the last few days.
There is a lot of confusion over what Dr. Tarawneh will conclude after meeting with about 150 deputies. The big question is whether a new face will emerge or if a veteran premier will be selected. Few days earlier the battle for the speakership of the Lower House was won by a member of the old guard.
The final decision will rest with the king. Regardless of the process, or mechanism, he has the constitutional prerogative to appoint, and discharge, the country’s prime minister. In a country that has seen five premiers come and go in the last three years, the concept of forming a government that can live the full four-year parliamentary term is novel. Under the constitution a new government must win the Lower House’s vote of confidence. It must resign if is voted out at anytime.
The king has spoken recently of a new phase in political reforms. He has called for a “white revolution” within the government body. Definitely, the new mechanism of selecting Jordan’s prime minister will decide the future of these reforms. Many pundits have expressed doubts about the ability of the new Lower House to reform its internal system and carry out needed legislative amendments. Former minister and daily columnist Taher Al-Adwan has called for a transparent process where the public can follow what goes on between Dr. Tarawneh and the deputies.
In the first day of consultations Dr. Tarawneh met with Al Watan bloc, a coalition of 27 deputies. A spokesperson for the bloc said the deputies provided the palace official with general specifications that the future prime minister must have, but did not suggest a name. They wanted a man who could restore public trust in government, commit to a reform program with a timeframe and provide a vision to fix the economy. But these are subjective values and some would argue that they fit caretaker Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah Ensour.
The other unknown in the new formula is whether the new prime minister will consult with the deputies before forming his government, or if he will offer deputies posts in his Cabinet.
Some pundits believe that after all is said and done, the Royal Court will push to get approval for its own candidate, who most likely will be Dr. Ensour. His transitional government has overseen the holding of elections, which were praised as free and transparent, and adopted a number of difficult, and controversial, economic decisions.
As the media and the public ponder what the new mechanism will produce, the future of political reforms is hanging in the balance. There is a consensus now among Jordanians that the election and parties laws must be overhauled in a way that will spur political parties and limit the influence of tribal and independent candidates.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Islamic Action Front (IAF) have insisted that the new mechanism will have no fundamental effect on the political realities in Jordan. They describe the latest reforms as cosmetic.
The Islamists have boycotted the elections in protest of the election law.
The new experiment, ambiguous as it is, is unlikely to create a new political tradition. In the absence of political parties with solid and clear programs and objectives, the new prime minister will be a product of a dysfunctional political system that has produced a Lower House that is no different from previous ones. The course toward genuine parliamentary governments remains fraught with obstacles. It certainly requires thriving political parties, something which the system had thwarted for decades. To reverse course will also require substantial constitutional amendments that will eventually transform the country into a bona fide constitutional monarchy.

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