Jordan to become a full democracy within a decade

Written by on August 6, 2021

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is set to become a fully constitutional democracy where the parliamentary parties choose the government within the next 10 years.

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A 92-person royal commission charged to reform Jordan’s election and party laws has been preparing a decade-long road map for democratization.

Under the current system, the monarch appoints and can dismiss the government, the lower chamber of the legislature is limited to approving, rejecting or amending legislation, with little power to initiate laws, and the king appoints the members of the upper house.

The plans being discussed behind closed doors call for three phases to reach the kind of constitutional monarchy that the United Kingdom or Sweden enjoy, a senior member of the commission told The Media Line.

“The idea is that in the first phase, 30% of the parliamentary seats will be dedicated to fully-fledged, nationwide political parties. Party representatives will go up to 60% in the next round of parliamentary elections and by the third round, all 100% of the country’s parliamentary seats will come from political parties,” the commission member said.

“There is no talk at present about the Senate or king’s chamber, which is supposed to have half as many seats [as the lower house]. At present Jordan’s lower house has 130 seats and it is expected that the number will rise to 150 if the recommendation of the royal commission is accepted by King Abdullah,” the commissioner continued.

The gradual change is vintage Abdullah II. Back in 2011, when the Arab world including Jordan was experiencing a wave of reform, the king himself argued that any political change “should be done gradually, and in accordance with the interests and security of the nation. It is this latter part that is crucial.”

In his June 12, 2011 speech, Abdullah emphasized the “difference between the required democratic transformations and achievable ones on the one hand, and the risks of chaos and fitnah [sedition] on the other.”

Ironically the current commission was established in part as a result of the allegations of sedition against high-ranking figures who included the king’s half-brother the former Crown Prince Hamzeh along with a former confidant of the king, Bassem Awadallah, now an adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The members of the royal commission appear to have adopted the gradual approach.

Ahmad Shunnaq, the secretary-general of the National Constitutional Party, told The Media Line that according to the king’s directive, the political process that would lead to a parliamentary democracy needs to be carried out in phases.

“Maybe we need one or two rounds of elections in which there are 40 party-based seats in order for the public in Jordan to be able to swallow this change. Later we can move to a parliament that can establish a government and oversee its work,” he said.

Adnan Sawaeer, the head of the subcommittee charged with changing the party law, told The Media Line that balance must be found between those who want more party members in parliament and those who would prefer local parliamentarians controlling the lower house.

“We are working hard on creating a parliament that is friendly to women, parties and youth. It will be a totally new law that will allow university students to participate in the political arena and in party politics,” Sawaeer said.

Voter turnout is currently especially low among university students.

While there is general support for the 10-year reform process there are opponents who are skeptical of the strength of the will for political reform.

Nedal Mansour, a human rights activist and a leader in the country’s civil society movement, told The Media Line that there is little reason for Jordanians to believe that change will actually happen.

“People are not convinced that there is a serious will for reform. They feel that they are buying time by talking about gradual reform. This is disappointing. Why can’t Jordanians immediately enjoy their full rights? Why do we need years to become a democratic state?” he asked.

“Why should we wait another 10 years? The fact is that nothing has happened in terms of reform in the past 20 years; why will the system be any different in the coming years?

Jordan’s constitution calls the country’s political system a parliamentary monarchy, but except for a short period in 1957 the country has been run by a single monarch who chooses the governments and is able to dismiss the government and dissolve the parliament,” Mansour said.

The country’s demographics are split between East Bank Jordanians and Jordanians of Palestinian origin, but the seat distribution in parliament is greatly slanted in favor of the East Bankers. A small quota is reserved for women and various ethnic communities including Christians and Circassians. Bedouins are also given prominence in parliamentary seat distribution.

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