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Reform and rumblings in Jordan

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Curtis Ryan, a political scientist at Appalachian State and author of two books on modern Jordanian politics, wrote an in-depth piece in Foreign Policy about the reform wrangling in the country before Khasawneh resigned. He points to splits between Jordan's Palestinian and East Bank communities (the East Bankers, the "native" Jordanians, are over-represented in the current parliament thanks to existing electoral rules), lawmakers that have appeared mostly interested in preserving their own privilege, and anger from Islamists that the new rules are being designed to limit their possible power.

As much debate as the new law has triggered amongst Jordan's many pro-reform constituencies, political opposition in Jordan has taken a major turn in the last few years by moving beyond just the perennial new electoral law debates. The electoral law matters, to be sure. But opposition forces have rallied over a diverse set of demands that may seem disparate or even muddled to less democratically minded forces in the kingdom, but in actuality represent a fairly clear program. Pro-democracy and pro-reform activists in parliament have at various times called for more checks and balances between the legislature and executive authority (often arguing for a more constitutional monarchy), a more independent judiciary, the release of activists jailed in demonstrations, a reduced role for the (secret police) in daily life, and an end to corrupt governmental and business practices in the context of the country's longstanding economic privatization program.

The stakes are high regarding all these issues -- and of course regarding the electoral law as well -- since the new rules will set the stage for new elections and a new parliament, and opposition forces hope (for the first time in modern Jordanian history) to see future governments drawn from parliamentary majorities, rather than by royal appointment.

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