King Abdullah swears in new prime minister
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.