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Jordan aims to avoid unrest with dialogue on sweeping reforms

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What the opposition wants

Reforms have been slow coming since Feb. 2, when major street protests spurred King Abdullah II to sack his government and install a new prime minister, Maarouf al-Bakhit, on orders to make serious political and economic reforms. Mr. Bakhit announced in late February that the government would commission an independent national dialogue on reform. But as details emerged, it became clear that many of the demands expressed by the street were not going to be put on the table.

Despite deep social and economic divides, Jordan's opposition leaders have been remarkably unified. They wanted changes to Jordan's election law, which over-represents tribal areas and shortchanges urban centers. They also wanted modifications to laws that place severe restrictions on the press, public gatherings, and political parties. Most important, they wanted democracy.

"It is a hope for all Jordanians: to be part of the decision-making in the country," Nimer al-Assaf, deputy general secretary of the Islamic Action Front, told the Monitor last month.

The Constitution grants King Abdullah virtually absolute power: he appoints judges, the cabinet of ministers, and half the legislature; he can dissolve the national assembly or the cabinet at any time, delay elections indefinitely, and enact laws without the consent of the legislature. Achieving any semblance of a democratic government would require numerous constitutional amendments, which must also be approved by the king.

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