Jordanian king promises reform to skeptical public

Constitutional amendments to increase balance of power not enough to quell popular mistrust, analysts, politicians say.

By DAVID E. MILLER / THE MEDIA LINE
August 16, 2011 17:44
2 minute read.
Jordan's King Abdullah in Moscow, April 2011.

King Abdullah_311 reuters. (photo credit: Alexander Natruskin / Reuters)

 
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Jordan's King Abdullah said he would adopt a series of constitutional amendments that will decrease his power and make government more accountable to the people. But local politicians and experts say the reforms may be too little and too late.

"The wall of fear has fallen," Basel Burgan, an Amman pharmacist and social activist told The Media Line. "People are no longer scared to speak their minds. If His Majesty the King does not speed up the reform process, more and more people will take to the streets.”

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On Sunday, a Constitutional Review Committee established by the King in April ceremonially submitted a document containing 42 revisions to the constitution of 1952.  The proposed changes call for increasing Jordan's balance of power and widening civil liberties.

One amendment will empower the parliament to appoint the prime minister, rather than have him personally chosen by the King. At present, elections may be postponed indefinitely after a parliament is dissolved by the King. A constitutional amendment will limit the interim period to four months.

"There is an overwhelming consensus in Jordan that this move is historically significant, strengthening the separation of power and reducing the King's prerogatives," Assaf David, an expert on Jordan at Jerusalem's Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, told The Media Line. "The question is will it be enough. Three months ago it may have been, but today there's a predominant sense of nihilism and mistrust."  

Weekly demonstrations demanding political reform erupted in Jordan in January, but were milder that protest movements elsewhere in the Arab world which demanded regime change. A sluggish response by the King to the reform demands coupled by police violence against protesters has pushed many Jordanians to mistrust any government initiative.

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Ten Jordanians were injured in a pro-reform protest in the southern city of Karak on August 12. The unarmed youth demonstrators blamed the government for unleashing pro-regime thugs who attacked them with sticks and knives, independent news agency Ammon News reported.

"People have lost faith in the entire political system," Fatima Smadi, a journalism professor and political columnist with the independent daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm, told The Media Line. "The regime talks about reforms and then sends thugs to disperse protesters."

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