Political reform package – after a rough start, smooth sailing

Musa Shteiwi
(Photo: Jordan News)
Last week, the Parliament started deliberations on the first part of the political modernization package that was produced by the Royal Committee of Political Modernization (RCPM) and adopted by the government. The strongest opposition was to introducing the word “women”, thus having both genders, when talking about the rights and duties of Jordanians, in Article 6. اضافة اعلان

The amendment was meant to send a strong message about gender equality and recognition of the important role that Jordanian women play in society.

The discussion ended in a brawl involving a number of lawmakers. The amendment was passed few days later, but the incident revealed the prevalence of the patriarchal ideology some representatives hold, as well as the deep divisions among various groups of the society.

Opponents to the constitutional amendments and reform package as a whole come from different ideological and political backgrounds. The Islamic Action Front members opposed the amendment on the ground that it will affect the personal status law, which is governed by Sharia law that was not on the agenda. Its members seem to be more interested in changes to the election and political parties laws that will enable them to increase their presence in parliament and less interested in changes that have to do with expanding political and human rights, especially women rights.

Other socially conservative groups fear that the changes will affect the identity of the country, fear upsetting the social conservative order and worry about a decrease in their share of power in society. 

Opposition to political reform also comes from the old guards and the power elite who feel that reform will change the rules of the game and threaten their interests, privileges and power, and any move toward more democratic change will be detrimental to their power.

The reform package that includes, in addition to the constitutional amendment, an election and political parties law and other recommendations for local governance, is viewed by many as a major and significant leap forward, a step that is envisioned to set the Kingdom on the road toward parliamentary governments, albeit gradually.

His Majesty King Abdullah expressed strong support for the reform package and acknowledged, in a meeting with the House of Senate leaders a few days ago, that there are forces that are trying to hinder the reform process, but showed determination to move forward.

Many observers believe that the government did not do enough to engage the public or the Parliament, and explain the rationale and the objectives of the plan, to gain the necessary support for it. That left many people to speculate and fall prey to rumors about the intentions and the desired outcome of the plan and allowed many opponents to attack it based on certain issues that were taken out of context. It also created a feeling of helplessness and fear among some parliamentarians about the future of the current Parliament after passing the political reform legislation, which could explain partly the MPs behavior. 

A number of deputies complained that the Legal Committee of the Lower House should have engaged the public and lawmakers, and allowed for more dialogue to explain the plan and get feedback. The Lower House is expected to finish voting on the constitutional amendments very soon and set the agenda for discussing the remaining parts of the package.

It is as important to pass the legislation as it is to gain support for it among the population and the parliamentarians. Success should not only be passing the legislation, because eventually it will pass with or without major changes. The real test is how successful the reform itself will be. Therefore, I think that for the remaining parts of reform package there should be more dialogue and discussion with MPs and different social groups, to hear and answer the legitimate questions and concerns in the battle to gain awareness. 

It is also important to have a plan or a roadmap, drawn by the government, for implementing the actual reform, because we do not have the luxury of time. We cannot afford to waste this historic opportunity at the beginning of the second centennial of the Kingdom.

The writer is former director of the Center for Strategic Studies and professor of sociology, University of Jordan.

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