King Abdullah Dissolves Parliament And Calls For Early Elections

It’s the political news of the week, perhaps even the year here in Jordan, and it has come as a surprise to most. HM King Abdullah’s decision to dissolve the Lower House of Parliament and call for early elections is a move that few anticipated. At least in any realistic context. Criticism of the Parliament in the press has indeed increased in recent months, specifically since its last session. But that’s nothing new. Parliament has always been treated like the straw man of the Jordanian state and so much of the criticism that is intended for higher powers will filter through it, much like the cabinet.

Nevertheless, while no one is dancing in the streets, it may go without saying that the overwhelming majority are in favor of the move. News site Ammon has over 400 comments testifying to that.

So what’s behind the move?

The easy answer is incompetency. And Occam’s Razor may play a role here, but then again, if there’s one thing Jordanian politics demonstrates is that the easiest answer is never the right one. And if there’s two things Jordanian politics demonstrates, it’s that incompetency has never been a problem for the government.

Columnist Sameeh Al-Maitah says the changes are indeed a gift but are representative of larger changes that need to be made in order to restore the public’s confidence in their government and its institutions – in other words, it may only be the beginning of changes, with another government being possibly appointed as well. This sentiment has been echoed by Suleiman alKhalidi in a Reuters piece, who also mentions the election law and the disenfranchisement of Jordanians of Palestinian origin in the context of the arduous “alternative homeland” issue.

Meanwhile, columnist Jamil Nimri seems to feel that the parliament was removed from being at loggerheads with the government, but asks the right question of whether the next elections will be based on the new or old election law; the former of which proved to be disadvantageous to Islamists and opposition members in general. That said, arguments suggesting this move was done in order for the government to begin passing temporary laws without the Parliament’s approval are valid. Yes, a second decree was in fact issued calling for early elections to happen within four months (technically earlier), however, a lot can happen in four months when it comes to temporary laws. It was done before to the tune of over 200 laws being passed in the long absence of Parliament. Over 200 laws were passed between 2001 and 2003 alone.

This latest move to dissolve the parliament may indeed find its roots in the legislative body’s inability to get along with the government, which, if you think about it, is sort of their job. In the Jordan Times today:

The 15th Lower House was elected on November 20, 2007 and approved some 132 laws in four sessions – two ordinary and two extraordinary sessions. In the first ordinary session, deputies approved 52 laws, and 42 in the second. In their first extraordinary session they approved 23 laws.

However, in the last extraordinary session, lawmakers approved only 13 laws out of 29 listed on their agenda, which included laws of interest to the public.

The extraordinary session was adjourned while deputies were still discussing the income tax draft law, having only finished 11 articles of the 70-article law.

The government also withdrew the energy draft law and the income tax draft law to amend them in accordance with developments in these two sectors. After the session was adjourned, the government withdrew two laws and issued them as temporary laws, including the social security and higher education laws. [source]

If this is in fact the case it would be somewhat ironic. The state did move heaven and Earth during the last two elections (municipal and parliamentary) to make sure the Islamist opposition, which tends to be based in Palestinian-dominated cities, would be curtailed. From an unfavorable election law to voter fraud and gerrymandering, what were considered mere allegations at the time were proven with ample enough evidence that included videos of voter fraud being heavily circulated. Nevertheless, the strategy was successful as the Islamic Action Front ended up with very little representation in the Lower House, a new reality that helped launch the party in to a series of internal clashes over the span of the past two years. And yet, despite all this, the government still ended up with a “pro-government” parliament that wasn’t all too friendly.


That being said, we are at a “what’s next?” phase, and while much is still unknown, such as whether or not elections will be taking place in the next four months (the constitution allows the King to delay them) – the right question to ask is that posed by Nimri: which election law are we going with? What path are we choosing? Because unless a fair and just law is introduced, one that allows for actual representation, we will always produce the same results.

To quote Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

UPDATE #1: sources say that the second shuffle in Nader Dahabi’s cabinet will be happening after the Eid holiday. This would be the second shuffle in the same year. The government will also be issuing two temporary laws, one related to setting the parliamentary elections for some time in the middle of next year, and the other related to the income tax law, the latter of which was an unresolved issue with the last parliament.

UPDATE #2: seems the King is very serious about elections, having sent a letter to the Prime Minister charging him with taking all the necessary steps to prepare for upcoming elections, including, a revision of the Election Law. In the letter, the King says he would like to see the elections as a “model of transparency, fairness and integrity – a highlight on our path towards reform and modernization…” [source in Arabic]

UPDATE #3: A poll taken within 12 hours or so of the decision to dissolve the Parliament, shows that 85% of Jordanians approve of the King’s decision. I’m not one to put much faith in polls taken immediately after events as they tend to produce soft numbers, but it’s nevertheless indicative and interesting. This one polled 200 respondents that included, opinion-makers, politicians, party activists, media players, academics, tribe members, and civil society members – in an attempt to gauge public opinion overall.

The poll also revealed that 78% of respondents believe the reason for the decision to be due to incompetency of the MPs. Interestingly enough, 90% strongly support early elections, 69% strongly support a new election law, and 88% strongly support establishing an independent body to administer the elections.

UPDATE #4: Abdel Hadi Al-Majali tells Ammon that he will not be running in the next elections, thus relinquishing his seat as the Speaker of the Lower House, which he has maintained an iron-grip on for over a decade (circa 1998). This is very interesting and surprising news to me. Majali’s absence, whether “requested” or done so begrudgingly, is definitely one of the most important signals being sent through the local political arena that could signify real changes ahead.

That said, I’m forced to wonder if Majali’s absence will weaken the National Bloc thus helping to empower the Islamic Action Front. And with that in mind, will his move be factored in to any near future discussions regarding a new election law?


  • Nice roundup of today’s events Nas. There’s not many good english blogs that have a Jordanian political slant (Google translations of local papers is not quite the same), so for that I’ll give you my BC award vote. BTW, is there any place that has daily translations of Emad Hajjaj’s cartoons?

  • A welcome move but a late one. A good move but a one that is also a manifistation of what is all wrong with our “politics” of governing. Now, the interesting questions are: was is a coup agains the forces of no? Was it a coup against the forces of the status quo? Did the one and only Abdel Hadi el majali know? Or was it a slap in the face for him? For example will he be appeased in one way or another.How about the senate? What goal do they serve? Will we be promised and “guranteed” a clean and fair elections just like the last one..I mean the fraud was beyond obvious yet it took almost two years to take action..Will we be back to the Abu Elragheb era of temp laws?

    Too many question that have not been answered yet..

  • Thanks for this quick and thoughtful comment on events! Black Iris has again proved to be an excellent source of up to date information which, if – like me – you don’t understand Arabic, is especially helpful if you want to follow Jordanian political events.

  • Dave, Kinzi, Fred: thanks for reading!

    Chris: thanks! as for hajjaj. no, unfortunately, i do not know of any site that offers translations except his own, and they are not daily.

    Mohanned: From a piece written in Ammon about MP reactions, it seems Abdel Hadi was also taken a bit by surprise, or at least in a last-to-know position.

    as for promises, they are worthless. unless we see real changes happening before the actual election then we can count on a repeat of results and i do hope the abu ragheb era is over! in any case, time will tell. i have a feeling elections will be postponed. the constitution says the new parliament should be holding its first session in four months, which means campaigning should begin, which means elections should be announced any time soon….

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  • Sam,
    I love u too.

    If there is a reshuffle in the govt, it will be interesting to see if Sahel majali will still be there. Now for real, shouldn’t the minister of interior have been fired? Overall, the parliment isn’t the policy maker in Jo, so why they were put at the forefront of this “new” reform escalation? True reform would come if the powers to be surrendered some of its powers and took action based on its words that we got so used to hearing.

    I say, it is the same ol’ same..Why should we expect it be different this time? Everything looks the same, the same policies are still in place.

  • as long as palestinian-jordanians are disadvantaged in representation by the election law, there will be no hope in having a well balanced and educated parliament….

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