Yet Another Rifai Government And The Need For Referendums

And so it was, after nearly two weeks following a parliamentary election, the Rifai cabinet submitted its resignation and HM King Abdullah has asked the prime minister to form yet another government. In a broader context, having formed in December, replacing an entire government, and the reshuffling in July, yet another reshuffle is taking place, creating what is likely to be one of the most unstable Jordanian governments in recent history. It seems the only man in government who has managed to keep his ministerial job for more than 11 months has been the prime minister himself.

Cabinet reshuffles are common after a new parliament is sworn in and they are usually sold as an attempt by the state to “start anew”, when reality seems to indicate that they are more akin to the state assessing the line up of the other team and then choosing its own line up. A reactionary chess move if you will. And since the government is completely appointed (largely dictated by the Royal Court in consultation with the prime ministry office) the whole process makes for splendid political theater while demolishing hopes for genuine long term and much-promised political reform. After all, it’s not easy to be charged with inducing real change in a public institution when you’re asked to leave a few weeks after you’ve just found the cup on your desk where the pens and pencils go.

The process story is as predictable as that of the parliamentary elections two weeks ago. A new cabinet is formed without any public consultations or public debate, and, in this specific case, will be given a tremendous vote of confidence by the lower house of parliament in the complete absence of any significant political opposition and the presence of a largely pro-government legislative body that is said to be representative of the people.

To take matters in to territory that’s even more gray, the Senate (or the upper-house of parliament) is being restructured to include more senators, to “balance” out the parliament between a body that is “elected democratically” and a body that is appointed and made up largely of ex-politicians, such as former appointed (and aging) ministers. Six of those seats are to replace the six senators that resigned their upper-house seat to join the lower-house. Generally speaking, the lower-house’s ability to genuinely contribute to any real lawmaking or the public policy process will be limited, and what credibility it may hold now will likely be diminished in the coming months.

When all is said and done, one wonders why the people have continued to voice and demonstrate their discontent even in the form of scattered violence on the streets (be it pre-elections, during elections, post-elections or other). Those voices seem to be resonating a lot louder, and perhaps a lot truer, than anything offered by political representation these days.

While the Islamic Action Front has called for a “national salvation government” – whatever that means. But we could use a little salvation these days and in light of an expected vote of confidence in the coming days, I am compelled to offer an alternative. For why should a body of government that barely represents the people on a genuine level, be given the right to approve (in the name of the people) another body of government that doesn’t represent the people at all?

Although governments and cabinets will continue to be shuffled like a deck of cards, and while parliament will continue to be a futile legislative body – and asking to change any of that is a tall order for the state – I am inclined to wonder if it is time to allow for the exercise of a referendum. A direct vote by the electorate on the most essential of matters. A vote where everyone’s vote is equal and there are no governorates, no districts, no virtual districts or make-believe districts.

Just a single ballot for a single issue.

Let the government be appointed, but give the people the democratic ability to vote on whether they approve the cabinet or not. Let the ministers present their credentials ahead of time, let them be open to public debates, let their records be transparent, and then let the people vote.

Moreover, give the cabinet a two-year expiration date after which people vote on whether the government stays or goes. At least ministers wanting the job will know they will be held accountable by the electorate by the mere act of voting, and to some extent they will be aware of their own expiration date. In such a case, the minister becomes aware that if they are voted out, they are unlikely to get voted back in, thus eliminating any situations where ministers avoid tackling key issues in order to retain their positions. The system itself acts as a natural filter for the country’s top decision maker to appoint those who are truly worthy and willing when it comes to public service, while at the same time offering the people the power to have a say in who gets to govern them at the highest levels; the policy makers. It’s a little bit of direct democracy in a country where representative democracy doesn’t seem to be the way to go. And would this not be in line with His Majesty’s vision (as outlined in his letter to Rifai) of a more decentralized Jordan where the citizenry is able to more actively partake in the decision-making process?

And heck, if none of this is doable, a referendum on key issues that massively affect the entire population, issues that cannot be dependent on the vote of an unrepresentative parliament (especially one that conflicts with some key legislation) may not be a bad idea.

The electoral law for starters. Can we depend on a body of government that was elected by this very law to make any legislative moves against it?


  • ” فإنني أؤكد على ضرورة إرسال قانون الانتخاب المؤقت إلى مجلس النواب بصفة الاستعجال، لدراسته وإدخال ما يلزم عليه من تعديلات، تنسجم مع مصالح الوطن وطبيعة المرحلة”

    Focus on “مصالح الوطن وطبيعة المرحله”. For reform to take place the leadership has to truly believe in ideals. This is a typical utilitarian view of society-of course the sum of happiness is arbitrary at best.better label would be:authoritarian one nevertheless.

    nothing will change. this illusion of “newness” is part of the process.Manage the short term memory of the masses by providing them with cyclical sense of hope and “excitement”. There is no political will at the top.

    National agenda was merely an extra credit assignment they had to produce to “impress” the bush regime.

    If the top was serious about reform they would have had marwan mouasher and his team leading the country at this stage, but no.

  • You know the other day i was having a discussion and sadly realized one thing, that political reform is inconsequential in the short run, actually it might be detrimental in the long run because it’s usually accompanied by a period of instability while the population and politicians adjust to a new system.
    Now that might sound a bit crazy but personally I see the greatest obstacle facing Arabic regimes, including Jordan, in the next 20 years is getting their budget deficits down since there is little incentive for anyone to refinance a loan that is not going to ever be paid.
    The main cause of the deficits is the ginormous chunk that social and governmental employment take out of each countries GDP, which usually runs anywhere from 50%-70%. When trying to ween off part of the population of their addictiveness to governmental subsidies and safety nets and encourage the emergence of a private sector capable of handling a chunk of those laid off by the gov’t it is advisable to have a stable and consistent legislative environment.
    So the question is who is more capable of doing that? If a democracy was in place would the population agree to sacrificing themselves for the sake of the country or would they continue driving the budget over the edge?

  • “the citizenry is able to more actively partake in the decision-making process
    the average Jordanian citizen graduates from college without having any meaningful experience in a decision making process for matters affecting his life, the biggest decisions are made by circumstances.
    If the citizenry is able to participate more actively will they care enough to decide?will they have enough information to make the right decisions? will they be able to see the consequences of their decisions? so far the answer is no, no, and no.

    take the elections as an example, if an independent body was allowed to profile every Parliamentary representative, what he voted on during his term and how he performed people can SEE what was done in their name and how they were represented. When citizens vote for morons time and time again who vote to increase their benefits and paychecks increasing the deficit then the citizens should pay more taxes. There is no transparency and no media coverage of the decision making process and its aftermath, and i’m sure if there was total transparency a lot of people will still vote for the guys who caused them to pay more taxes!!

    In regards to ministers, the Royal Court and the Prime Minister should explain their selection and appointments, what qualifies HE Joe Schmo to be minister of education, energy or whatever..or all of them one after the other? The King has trusted Rifai again to appoint a new government, can someone please shed some light on the effects of the 1st and 2nd minister shuffle? what the PM has done in 11 months?
    People in all branches of the government come and go and the general public is not aware who caused what, who made which decisions and why anything happens. If each ministry had a thoroughly studied 5 year sub-plan of the entire country’s MASTER plan they wouldn’t be affected by the shuffle of people cause anyone who comes in only needs to implement!!

  • Bam,
    I guess it is more fair to ask questions about the past and the present. Those who managed them screwed up big time.They failed. it’s always uncle sam or uncle saud to the rescue. Ironically, the rescue is presented as a direct positive result of the “policies” and the governing formula that created the mess in the first place.

    Core issue must be redistributing power and installing a comprehensive system of checks and balances. Democracy has its flaws, however they pale in comparison to the flaws and consequences of unchecked and unaccountable authoritarian systems.

    The deficit is the government. The deficit is the employment-for-appeasement. The deficit is the corruption. The deficit is the unaccountability. The deficit is constant shift in policies. Before we ask the people to sacrifice we must have leaders from the people. Who are the people. Leaders that are transparent. Leaders that show true leadership, not salesmanship.

  • Do you think people up there do not know? They know what every move they do means. From the election law that does not allow any real voices to get into the parliament to submissive politicians and servants appointed as ministers and prime ministers.

    Do you sincerely believe that almost all Jordanians can spot the faults in the election law but people up there cannot? Do you think that we can all see that this prime minister opposes free speech and democracy as had been shown by the NUMEROUS incidents we have had this year and they cannot? Do you think a prime minister can oppose the people’s right to free speech and their right to have democracy and equality just by making up his mind on this thing? It’s all planned out and it’s all a joke. A political drama this is and we sit back in this theater believing that the people up there want reform but they actually don’t.

    Do you believe Emad Al Esh’s story is unheard of up there? I pity you if you do.

  • It is all clear by now that system and the people who guard , sustain and promoted this system are bankrupt, corrupted and out dated, and the question that begs itself , would any of you drink milk that had expired 90 years ago?, would any of you eat rotten food, if you will, and be able to survive or prosper , the answer to these question is no, no, no.
    I have said it before and i will say again , throw this system into the garbage dump!!!

  • if you read the CVs of minsiters you will notice:

    the energy minister studied business
    the education minister studied medicine
    the agriculture minister studied economics
    the political development minister studied telecommunication the culture minsiter studied political science
    the labour minister studied electrical engineering
    the environment minister studied economics

    enough said…

  • Musings re Canada – Jordan ……And Samir inherited the post from Daddy and Grandpas….

    Although I think we all agree that automatic entitlement is not desirable, I have often wondered what happens if both father and son are talented and able ? Should a son be disqualified just because he is a son ? Or, another scenario. A father was indeed not up to much, but a son is good by all counts ? What should happen then ?

Your Two Piasters: