Jordan monarch sets up much demanded ‘independent’ election commission

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King Abdullah parliament speech
King Abdullah delivers a speech during a session for the parliament in Amman. Photo - Ali Jareki/Reuters

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has approved an Independent Election Commission to oversee the upcoming polls, a week after Prime Minister Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh resigned in a surprise move.

“Jordan has a historic opportunity to determine its future this year,” the king told the lower house deputies and urged them to work with the government on laws governing political parties, elections and a constitutional court.

“All these efforts will be meaningless if they do not result in holding fair and transparent parliamentary elections before the end of this year,” a statement released from the palace quoted him as saying.

Jordanian authorities insist the king is very serious about reforms and taking steps in the right direction. However, his critics including several Islamists dismissed the reforms as “marginal.”

“The king … is the guarantor of reforms and will not tolerate any delays in the process,” a senior royal court official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The anonymous source added: “The country is now facing exceptional circumstance and Jordan is trying to take advantage of the Arab Spring to speed up comprehensive reforms. No one should rest until popular demands for reforms are met.”

The Jordanian king appointed Abdul Ilah Al Khatib, former UN special envoy to Libya and career diplomat, to head the electoral panel, reports said.

“Jordan will exert tremendous efforts to hold the elections before the end of 2012. There is no time to waste,” the palace official insisted.

Approval

The parliament has been tasked with debating and approving the laws on political parties and elections during its ordinary session. King Abdullah has extended the validity of the legislative chamber to 25 June in order to pass historic legislations.

“The electoral law is now in the hands of parliament. Political powers and MPs should start a dialogue in order to choose the agreement on the law,” Samih Maaytah, Jordanian Information Minister and government spokesman, said.

“Of course this does not mean that all the demands of political powers must be met. The two sides should find a middle ground solution, and the government will support all reform efforts,” he added.

The proposed legislation scraps the one-person-one-vote system and increases the quota for women MPs.

Opposition

However, the new rules limit the country’s 23 political parties to field only five candidates for a total of 15 seats allocated to them nationwide. Opposition parties, mostly Islamists, have criticised the latest ruling.

“We do not seek elections for the sake of elections. The previous polls produced MPs that do not represent the people. Now the political atmosphere is worse, and we do not want a reproduction of the current lower house,” Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, told AFP.

“What is the point of holding elections under a law that seeks to exclude national powers? All these so called reform measures are marginal. They are not even close to the essence of the democratisation process.”

Jamil Nemri, an MP and columnist, termed the electoral committee as a “good step,” but urged the authorities for swift implementation of reforms.

“We say we want to reform but we are not doing anything about it. There is elusiveness in introducing real reforms. I think the electoral law and the elections represent the last test,” he told AFP.

Critics of the new government, led by Fayez Tarawneh, claim it is too “conservative” in delivering reforms and is unable to implement the reforms initiated by the king.

“Jordan is facing a dilemma, and the majority of people are not optimistic about reforms. Ordinary Jordanians have been waiting for more than a year to see change,” political analyst Hassan Abu Hanieh told AFP.

Jordan has seen relatively small but persistent Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations almost every week since January 2011 that demanded sweeping reforms.

“To start a process of genuine reforms, you need an electoral law that represent all Jordanians, and then take it from there to address other issues,” he said.

Economy woes

Maher Sheikh Hasan, the Deputy Central Bank Governor of Jordan, said in a statement he expected the economy to grow by 2.8 to 3% this year compared with 2.6% in 2011.

“There is a good improvement in different sectors in Jordan so far and we expect a growth in 2012 that is better than 2011,” he said in an interview in Amman on Wednesday.

Hasan added that the Hashemite kingdom is about to implement a law that will govern selling Islamic bonds. “It is among the government’s priorities to finish the law, which will positively affect Jordan’s economy,” he said.

Jordanian government has come under great strain due to soaring energy costs. The top central banker said the government is considering ways to reduce expenditure and is considering to reduce subsidies. “There is a need to ration the use of energy in Jordan because anything sold at less than its real cost encourages more consumption,” he said.

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