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?