In the past week or so, much of the political sphere has been abuzz with the proposed constitutional reforms that come out of several months of deliberation by an assigned 10-member Royal committee. Of the 42 amendements there is little I can comment on. Many of its proponents have suggested that it lays the groundwork for an elected government, but of course none of these amendments actually suggests that outright and it would be ridiculous to suggest that when the country “is ready for democracy”, the state will simply go back and amend the constitution once again, as if this was all merely elective surgery. These amendements do not remove any authoritarian powers from the King, which was the ambition of those that called for a more constitutional monarchy, and subsequently, changes to the constitution. What these amendments do is simply create some logical additions that should have been in place from the start. This include the inability for the King to dissolve parliament at will, banning torture, limiting the government’s issuance of temporary laws. In other words, much of the praise over these amendments are akin to a hungry dog being given a bone; convincing him it’s a steak isn’t much of a problem. Personally, I am neither willing to praise them nor discard them completely as superficial. The need to land on one side or the other highlights the very problem with this whole story, where we, as citizens, are supposed to think only of the result.
Meanwhile, the process remains broken in this country. Once again, we are focused on outcomes, and we are focused on binary solutions. The process is reduced to economics by it proponents, whereby supply equals demand. People demanded reforms, the King delivered constitutional amendments. No one should complain. That’s the end of it.
Alas, the story doesn’t end there, and nor should it.
The process this went through began with the overnight creation of a 10-member commission made up largely of former state officials, and originating largely due to pressure from protesters as opposed to pre-emptive willingness from the state. Several months later we’re presented with amendments that will now flow through the channels of the executive and legislative branches of government, the majority of which are appointed by the King and the minority of which is misrepresentative of the people. This latter reality is important here. One of the first moves taken by the state in response to the Arab spring’s uprisings was a clearcut acknowledgement that last year’s amended electoral law was massively flawed and required revision. If we have a flawed election law, therefore the outcome of last year’s election are equally flawed and we are left with yet another misrepresentative parliament that is tasked with discussing changes to our constitution. Emphasis on the word “constitution”. This isn’t some set of temporary laws that are up for debate under the dome. This is a foundational living document.
If the process is to be fixed then what is required at this point is increasing public awareness of these amendments, allowing average citizens to understand what foundational changes are about to take shape in their own country, and then allowing them to vote on it. A referendum is needed given the context of a parliament that is so clearly not representative.
While the amendments are indeed, a first step in the right direction, the process here on in needs to be considered. It is time to empower the people with the right to directly vote on their own constitution.
Lastly, there needs to be some acknowledgement of the fact that amending the constitution isn’t a solution to the greater problems; it is merely a fragment of what is required to create the much-needed drastic paradigm shift of the status-quo. Attempts to market this as some grandiose remedy are, at best, folly. People are still looking for the reforms that matter to them. The reforms that create social justice for all people regardless of origin, sex, or religion, equal and proportional representation, real economic opportunities and not royal palace handouts, fairness, transparency and real mechanisms of accountability. The process of establishing these foundations and implementing them is what will create engaged citizens, and shift mindsets. We have seen this before in the smallest of doses, particularly when, for instance, a government bureau changes its entire process and people who engage with it slowly learn to adapt and change the way they interact with it.
While much of these changes can be enshrined in a constitution, what is left is actual practical application of the law, and this is where the Jordanian state has historically come up short. We may have the laws on the book, but adhering to them is a whole other issue. In other words, the constitution can be changed, but those changes are irrelevant if the application of the law, or lack thereof, renders them so. Which is why the process that extends beyond the amendments is just as important as the process that brings those amendments about.