Remember when the Bush administration decided to handle protesters simply by taking them to a designated “free speech zone” (also known as a “free speech cage”)? Well, Jordan’s Lower House of Parliament seems set on doing the same thing these days. Essentially, they’ve designated a room by the main entrance of the Parliament building for members of the press, who are not allowed beyond that point. When they need to do their reporting, a Parliamentary press attache sweeps in to feed them the talking points. When the press want to see an “elected” member of Parliament, the attache will organize it and questions can only be asked in the presence of House staff.
These latest happenings, first dreamt up a few weeks back, have been seen as an escalation to the ongoing battle between the mainstream media and members of Parliament, which saw its climax last week after the four major dailies declared a boycott on reporting from the Parliament in protest of them upholding the Cultural Tax bill, which would see a 5% tax levied on media and anyone else who makes their money through advertising.
Something interesting happened during those few days of boycotting: Jordanian politics did not come to an end.
In other words, no one cared.
In other words, it showed us just how defunct the entire parliamentary institution is in this country. Whether the government passes laws properly through the legislative branch or implements its own temporary laws, no one cares. The public has long deserted the government and its parliament. No expectations are set thus no expectations are met.
Beyond the purely symbolic, participatory act of voting every four years in a fraudulent electoral process that resembles an act out of the Moscow Circus, Jordanians have benefited nothing from their so-called “elected” Parliament – a branch of government so insignificant that when four major daily newspapers stop reporting on its activities for a week, no one notices. The movie goes on and no one in the audience has any idea. In fact, as columnist Jamil Nimri might argue, the only reason any one ever cared about something Parliament did was because the press was there to report it.
In other words, if something happens in Parliament and no one is around to report it, does that mean it ever happened?
I mean really, when your presence as a legislative body has been reduced to a long-standing philosophical argument, you have to wonder, were you really ever that important in the first place?
This recent boycott, whether one approves of it or not, was a clear demonstration at just how defunct this branch of government is. And it’s not their fault. This is like blaming a mentally-challenged child for being mentally-challenged. The reality of the situation is, his mother was a drug addict and nine months in that womb did not make for a healthy growing environment. In other words, the reason our Parliament is in the shape it’s in is largely due to the powers-that-be. In other words, it is what it is, because that’s how people want it to be.
This isn’t just about Parliament, but the entire political system that has integrated this body of government, and often times used it as a scapegoat. We forget that the bigger problems actually lie in the executive branch. We forget that being a useless member of parliament isn’t really a crime (unless they’re signing our laws), and is in no way comparable to, say, ministers who should be under investigation for much larger crimes.
What’s the solution. Unfortunately, there is none. Anything we can think of right now, including the dismissal of the Parliament or the declaration of new elections or strengthening an independent judiciary to induce greater transparency and accountability – all of these would be nothing short of band-aid solutions. As long as people are not allowed to truly elect who governs them, then all of these details are just futile arguments designed to distract us from the larger problem.
But if band-aid solutions are all we have, then Parliament should be dismissed. Let the media go after the executive branch for a while instead of chasing red herrings.
As for free press. Well. Nuff said.