Jordan slowly changes constitution to push serious political reform

Civil society was not consulted about the proposed amendments to the kingdom’s constitution though lawmakers accepted almost all of the 22 amendments.

JORDAN’S KING ABDULLAH II listens during a meeting in Amman in May. (photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)
JORDAN’S KING ABDULLAH II listens during a meeting in Amman in May.
(photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)

The lower house of Jordan’s parliament has approved constitutional changes that will allow for the introduction of a wide range of political reforms, many recommended by the Royal Commission to Modernize the Political System. The changes approved by over two-thirds of the lower house include electoral reform and a movement toward the equality of all citizens.

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Laith Nasrawin, professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the University of Jordan and rapporteur of the royal commission, told The Media Line that almost all of the amendments related to political parties and electoral law were accepted. 

“Only two minor changes were made to our 22 suggested amendments and we are happy that the bulk of our suggestions were adopted,” he said.

The addition of the female noun for Jordanian citizens to the title of the constitutional article dealing with the rights of all Jordanians had caused a storm among some conservative and Islamist lawmakers who complained that this will bring Jordan closer to the full adoption of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, known as CEDAW. On the other hand, many leaders of women’s movements said that the change is merely cosmetic and will not have any legal operational value in terms of serious issues of discrimination against women.

Muath Momani, legal adviser of Lawyers Without Borders, told The Media Line that while the constitutional changes are not as far-reaching as expected, they are a move in the right direction. “But it is better to arrive late than not to arrive at all,” he said.

US soldiers stand next to Jordanian flags as they take part in Exercise Eager Lion at one of the Jordanian military bases in Azraq, east of Amman, Jordan, April 26, 2018 (credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)US soldiers stand next to Jordanian flags as they take part in Exercise Eager Lion at one of the Jordanian military bases in Azraq, east of Amman, Jordan, April 26, 2018 (credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)

Momani said that he would have liked to see amendments that provide better access to the constitutional court and more human rights protection. “I would have liked to see that the constitutional court is opened up to the public and that members of the legislative branch be able to reach the country’s highest court, guarantees for health rights and freedom of expression,” he said.

Further amendments introduced by the government toward the creation of a national security council to be headed by the king were changed to remove the king from heading the council. The parliament did agree, however, to widening the king’s powers by allowing him to make a host of senior appointments without the need for a mandatory referral from the prime minister and the appropriate government minister. The ability to circumvent a future elected prime minister was reportedly included to avoid the possibility of an Islamist or other radical politician being elected and carrying out policy not in sync with the desires of the palace.

Nasrawin was not as pleased with the other amendments that were presented by the government, including the National Security Council, which he told The Media Line was badly drafted.  

“The government took a very good idea whose philosophy is to create a consultative body that can provide decision-makers with reliable and neutral advice that is not affected by political mood changes” and changed that idea through an unclear draft, Nasrawin said, adding that the parliament went even further by making this council into a government agency. “Like all other countries, we need a national security council, but we copied a good idea and did so in a bad way,” he said.

Samar Muhareb, executive director of Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, points out that the amendments were not created with popular support through a referendum, or even through consultation with civil society.

“As a lawyer, we have to be careful not to make quick changes to the constitution without proper debate and popular will; this weakens the constitution and makes it liable to political mood changes. It is a patriarchal approach to the political process and this is not the way to have genuine political reform,” she told The Media Line. 

Nasrawin rejects the necessity of a referendum in order to proceed with constitutional amendments, saying that referendums are not appropriate in a parliamentary system. “I don’t agree that we needed a referendum because, in a parliamentary governmental system, the member of parliament represents the people. We don’t have referendums in Jordan. Our system allows the people to make their point of view by voting their representatives who in turn make decisions on behalf of the people,” he said.