Political reform: Where do we start?

Fahed Khitan (Photo: Jordan News)
Does the amendment of the Election Law constitute the main gateway to political reform in Jordan, or is there a need for a more comprehensive approach?اضافة اعلان

In the weeks following the sedition case, calls for reform were voiced by various sides. Opposition and loyalist currents and personalities repeated the same extremely generic discourse, with limited exceptions that tackled the details of required reforms, from their own perspective.

This was the case before the latest crisis, but the repercussions of what took place constituted a strong incentive to bridge the gaps in the political system and bring the constitutional relationship between state and society in to the spotlight.

We still do not know the nature and extent of lessons learnt by the state from recent events, or what political and administrative changes it intends to undertake. What we do have in our hands is a governmental decision to form a ministerial committee to review political reform legislation, topped by the Election Law, within a set and short timeframe.

The committee’s working mechanism is yet to be revealed, but it is bound to include qualitative dialogues with concerned parties to formulate a picture on desired amendments to the election and political party laws.

On the other hand, reform calls in the public sphere vary significantly, and with differing ceilings, and some touching on fundamental constitutional articles and complete revisions of other pieces of legislation. Others still with radical approaches to governance, and, in other instances, encompassing moderate and more prudent ideas than the former. Then there are other currents in the community that are yet to voice their stands, along with institutions that have social and political clout, owing to their historical role.

While reformists and progressives are calling for a new approach that boosts the participation of all and rejects the deliberate exclusion of national currents and components, we notice that some reform calls can be described as predetermined templates that can be simply adopted by the state and its institutions without any discussions.

This manner of managing the national discourse is useless, as it has been tested before with disastrous outcomes. On the other hand, the worst thing the government could do is hold wide dialogues with the various currents, only to come out with pre-prepared formula, rendering the dialogue a cause for division rather than a key to consensus.

This has happened before; we negotiate at length, only for the government to present a legal formula that appeals to no one, resulting in accusations against the executive body of disguising the outcomes of the dialogue and imposing its vision, effectively passing its own agendas under the guise of dialogue.

We must get out of this cycle and approach the matter differently this time around. This is why I propose that the government holds a dialogue on the basic principles of the legislative reform plan for the election and political party laws, rather than the proposed formulas for the electoral system. There is also a need for discussing proposals for constitutional amendments, which, it appears, are on the table.

There is no ready recipe for reform that can be adopted or copied. We must also realize that the perfect state cannot be achieved all at once, but must be gradual, and it must be coupled with an understanding of social particularities and the fears of the various powers, as well as the capacity for institutions to develop a new culture, following long decades of following one approach.

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