King Abdullah swears in new prime minister

Sunday 05/06/2016
Jordanian King Abdullah II (C-R) speaks with the new Prime Minister Hani Mulki (C-L) at the swearing-in ceremony of Jordan’s new government in Amman.

Amman - Jordan’s King Abdullah II has sworn in potentially his last appointed prime minister, instructing him to call par­liamentary elections that would lead to future premiers being elected by the legislature.

The move is in line with Abdul­lah’s reform agenda, which antici­pates a legislature with more sig­nificant powers to choose future prime ministers from among elect­ed deputies, or a politician from outside the legislature under a par­liamentary consensus.

The ultimate goal is to have the elected Chamber of Deputies act as a shadow government, monitoring the performance of the cabinet and the executive arm that would run the daily affairs of the country, as the throne takes the back seat.

The changes, according to the king and top officials, will bring about a “constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government”. Under the constitu­tion, parliamentary elections are to be held no later than the end of September.

“This is a good step in the right direction,” said Mohammed Abu Zaid, a 26-year-old accountant, who was part of a youth movement of mostly college students who took to the streets in 2010-11 call­ing for wider public participation in decision-making.

“We hope it will be followed by other steps that would give the peo­ple more say in politics,” Abu Zaid said.

For the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the dis­solved Muslim Brotherhood move­ment, the Jordanian reform moves were insignificant.

“This is just a drop in the ocean, long overdue and fails to signify what steps will be taken in the fu­ture, if any,” lamented IAF leader Hamza Mansour. IAF is Jordan’s largest and best organised political party.

Traditionally, prime ministers have been appointed by the Jor­danian monarch, who wielded absolute power. That included dismissing parliament and ruling by decree, delaying parliamentary elections or keeping the legislature dormant while the cabinet enacted emergency laws.

Abdullah embarked on reforms months before the 2011 revolutions that toppled four Arab leaders and saw peaceful demonstrations in Syria turn into a civil war demand­ing the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

In the wake of popular protests calling for wider public freedom in November 2010, Abdullah quickly embraced reform. His initial steps included a new cabinet with wider tolerance of public criticism. Re­strictions on street protests were removed and police eased moves against opponents of the state.

In 2011, the king amended laws and at least one-third of the con­stitution, relinquishing significant powers to parliament. However, Abdullah stressed that he sought to maintain the foreign policy and defence portfolios as his royal pre­rogative.

The path to reform could take several years, Abdullah has admit­ted. He said he envisaged his role and his successors as arbitrators among the various political forces in the country.

The Hashemites are revered be­cause they trace their ancestry to Prophet Mohammad. They are credited with helping create the emirate of TransJordan, a desert land in the Levant that was carved out by the British colonialists and turn it into a regional hub.

Abdullah told lawmakers on sev­eral occasions that he envisaged Jordan as a model for a modern Arab state promoting tolerant Islam and working for building and main­taining global peace in conjunction with other nations worldwide.

The new prime minister, Hani Mulki, and 28 cabinet ministers were sworn in June 1st by the king in a brief ceremony.

Mulki, a seasoned diplomat who served as Jordan’s ambassador to Egypt and also as a minister in previous cabinets, replaced Abdul­lah Ensour, who resigned on May 29th. Ensour’s government had un­dertaken the legwork on reforms, amending laws and the constitu­tion.

Abdullah picked Ensour from the previous parliament at the height of the “Arab spring”, banking on his reputation as an honest politician.

In a designation letter to Mul­ki, Abdullah admitted that more changes to the political system were needed, such as strengthen­ing a multiparty system revived in 1991. A ban on political parties had been in effect since a 1956 leftist coup attempt. Political parties — es­timated to total 33 — remain splin­tered. Many espouse outdated ide­ologies, such as communism.

Jordan hopes that parliamentary aspirants will join platform-based political blocs with clear national agendas and goals to contribute to the formation of a stronger parlia­mentary bloc structure to “work under the Dome in a more mature fashion”, Abdullah told Mulki.

“This would be a qualitative leap towards realising our aspirations, particularly the endgame of the process: Building and developing political parties and bringing forth parliamentary governments,” Ab­dullah explained.