Theatrics in Jordanian Parliament and the absence of debate

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency. (Photo: Jordan News)
The Jordanian Parliament’s lack of professionalism is nothing new or sudden; it is almost institutionalized with long years of poor performance and dramatic shouting matches under its belt.اضافة اعلان

For some reason, in a country with the political will to invest in skilled human capital (to supposedly compensate for its lack of natural resources), the vast majority of representatives happen to be emotional and, evidently, unable to engage in healthy conversation about central national issues that matter in the long run.

For the current parliamentary cycle, this elected group of adults is lucky to have a handful of MPs who could be described as level-headed, methodological, and disciplined, including a few true assets with the potential to up the curve if tapped as civil servants.

But those do not have much of a say in the general course of parliamentary life. When difficult topics are on the table, lawmakers from current and past cycles almost always revert to the age-old “tradition” of sensationalizing their rhetoric beyond rational debate.

If Parliament were a private-sector company, the behavior of its members would surely be seen as a troubling sign that points to a lack of leadership, poor professionalism, and a clear absence of essential skills — like the ability to negotiate, communicate, work as a team (even with opposing opinions), and deliver tangible results. In a private-enterprise setting, odds are, most would be fired.

Last week, Lower House Speaker Abdul Karim Al-Doghmi found it necessary to suspend an oversight session of national importance due to a deliberate loss of quorum. The assembly was supposed to discuss the controversial “energy-for-water” declaration of intent, initiated last month by the US in a first step towards mediating a deal between Jordan, Israel, and the UAE.

In true theatrical fashion, scores of lawmakers protested the presence of Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Al-Najjar and stormed out from under the dome. According to several reports, most followed the lead of Islamist MP Saleh Al-Armouti, who is also the new head of the Parliamentary Reform Bloc since mid-November.

The editor-in-chief of Al-Ghad News, Makram Ahmad Al-Tarawneh, criticized the storming MPs in his Sunday column by pointing out that “the minister is just a government employee who cannot refuse (the task before him) as long as he is in office”.

To concur, demonizing the water minister is one of many tactics some MPs have been known to use to destroy any and all attempts to discuss topics that matter to Jordanians in a constructive and rational manner. From canceling anyone with a different opinion to using escalation as a go-to formula designed to bring negotiations to a dead end, those MPs have perfected the alphabets of demagogy and populism.

Hijacking the people’s right to a healthy political discourse is disheartening, especially when moderates, who may agree with the spirit of what the populists are objecting to, end up being robbed their chance to engage in a sober dialogue about the future of their homeland.

Having said that, stigmatizing the minister, or any member of the Cabinet, as a symbol of “normalization” is an archaic maneuver that belongs in the 20th century, back when the mere mention of Israel made our hearts race and our palms sweat.

Besides, MPs are not teenagers. It is perfectly understandable for university students to lead passionate protests to express their viewpoints and emotions regarding the “energy-for-water” deal. Expecting young adults to behave like they were cool-headed elders is unrealistic, unscientific, and unfair, more so since the “age of wisdom” is universally acknowledged as the age of 40.

But it should strike us as completely unacceptable when older adults with life experience, real careers, and some level of maturity engage in displays of hot-headedness and irrationality.

Tarawneh does tackle this point in his scathing opinion piece where he calls on MPs to carry the burden of their responsibility in a professional manner, up to their electors’ highest expectations, and in a way that best fulfills their national and patriotic duty.

Sadly, though, attending a few parliamentary sessions, one can conclude the Lower House is often reduced to a marketplace of favors — where many MPs alter their stances in exchange for trivial demands.

In one session witnessed first-hand, an MP once retracted his strongly-worded and strangely well-substantiated objection to a specific article in a proposed bill, in return for a list of trifling demands that included street lighting for his neighborhood. Naturally, that’s the job of local councilmen and women, not MPs serving on a nationwide assembly.

Engaging in negotiations with the government on this inconsequential level is an eye-opener that reveals the reality of parliamentary life in Jordan — where intellectual bankruptcy, unethical negotiations, and low expectations are the norm.

Worst of all, many treat “the Dome” like a soapbox to vent fiery opinions and bizarre conspiracy theories, with little to no real work poured into research, policy, and smart legislation.

The private sector is not known to shy away from serious training courses and capacity-building exercises to improve its performance. By the same token, it might be a good idea for Jordanian MPs to pass a new law that requires them to take mandatory courses in leadership, communication skills, mental mapping, policy making, ethics, and dialogue before assuming their posts.

Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

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