Jordan: On Laws & Political Freedom

An important development on the horizon…

Local opposition figures are hoping that a draft law governing the formation of political parties will be passed by parliament next month, ushering in a new era of political liberalisation.

“The new law includes a provision that refers to political parties assuming legislative power and forming future governments if they have a majority in parliament,” said Ahmed Yousef, secretary general of the opposition Jordanian People’s Democratic Party (Hashd). “This is a major step forward.”

Currently, King Abdullah II enjoys absolute power to appoint governments, approve legislation and dissolve parliament.

Minister of Political Development Sabri Rubaihat said this week that a government committee, along with representatives from 15 opposition parties, had reached broad consensus on the draft’s main provisions. “We’ll submit the law [to parliament] soon after reaching full national consensus on the final draft,” he said. Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakheet said the draft would be submitted for approval before the current parliamentary session ends on 30 March.

Opposition leaders have welcomed a provision in the current draft that removes the power to license new parties from the interior ministry. Under the proposed legislation, an independent body â?? including members of the judiciary and the ministers of justice and political development â?? would take over the task of granting party licences.

Nevertheless, criticism has been levelled at provisions that set down tough penalties for offences such as engaging in party activism within government institutions and the use of foreign funding. The draft still penalises parties for obtaining monies from outside Jordan, which the government claims allows parties to fall under foreign influence, including that of terrorists.

The road to political freedom in Jordan often times feels like the road to perdition. The outcome of a potential democracy actually scares me sometimes. You have people boycotting insulin for God’s sake, I don’t know if I can trust them to vote for a party to run the country.

This may be the law to look out for this year, seeing as how it will be one amongst several hundred. This may be one of the first to actually set the foundations for a future political atmosphere in Jordan; something, dare I say, historical? Too soon? I don’t know the details but one aspect of what is mentioned in the article that caught my attention was this:

“Oposition leaders have welcomed a provision in the current draft that removes the power to license new parties from the interior ministry”
, instead this will be governed by an independent body (“including members of the judiciary and the ministers of justice and political development”). I wonder what this entails? Is this just a provision to rename the same old thing? A rose by any other name?

Hopefully not.

I do find the bit about financing however very important. In a country surrounded by foreign elements that would probably take advantage of a democratic process where parties can easily be financed and therefore their politics influenced, it’s vital that there be restrictions.

The tendency however seems to be that a law like this will pass, everyone is happy, they put it in all the papers, and then within a year 50 temporary laws are unleashed to erode the power of that initial law guaranteeing whatever freedom(s). I’m exaggerating of course, but you get the point. With Jordan it’s hard to tell what the heck is going on. The government at times sends mixed signals left for everyone to decipher. I’m hoping this is not the case here.

The most interesting bit of political news though comes in the form of the following…

In a separate development, on 26 February, Prime Minister al-Bakheet pledged in parliament to submit a draft law on municipal elections by the end of the coming session, providing for an unprecedented 20 percent quota for women.

I wrote about the womenâ??s quota being revisited back in December. At the time a petition from woman groups in Jordan were on their way to HRH Princess Basma asking for a raise in the quota. They were hoping from 15% to 20%, at the time I thought that was a big dream. Not so much anymore I guess. The government of no suprises actually caught me off gaurd here.

Allow me to repeat myself…

If 2003 serves any example: at the time 46 women ran and only 5 won although the government appointed one woman in every municipality where the woman candidate lost in public elections. That came out to be 97 of the 99 municipalities. Note: 46 ran, 5 won, the government appointed 97.

…Women run, men run; people may or may not elect them. That is the consequence of democracy. Yes, the country is still traditional and the general populace may not want to see a woman in any political position of power. However there are no laws that say women cannot vote. In other words if 50 women run in the elections, the women of Jordan can go out and vote for them.

I don’t know if my mind has changed since December. Political beliefs should always be subject to change; there should be a law for that too come to think of it.

The important part here is that parliament will be sending a message when they vote on this law. Whether it passes or gets rejected will be something to pay attention. So get your popcorn ready, it’s last-minute-laws-hoping-to-get-passed season.


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