Jordan’s parliament has debated a wide range of reforms to the country’s constitution, which if implemented could significantly alter the governance of the 100-year-old kingdom.
Officials say the reforms, suggested by the Royal Committee to Modernise the Political System, could revitalise the monarchy while decentralising political power.
The committee, appointed by King Abdullah on June 11, drafted the proposals in an attempt to revamp existing political parties and electoral law.
Prime Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh said on Monday the draft legislation would pave the way for a prime minister emerging from a parliamentary majority, rather than one hand-picked by the monarch, a main plank of the reformist agenda favoured by a broad spectrum of political parties in the kingdom.
“It allows the leader of the country [the king] to go towards party-based governments”, he told the assembly.
King Abdullah has long expressed a desire for Jordan to become a constitutional monarchy, telling ABC News in 2007 that “monarchies have to modernise, and a way of modernising is to do these political reform issues that will give people a much larger say in the way their countries go”.
The new proposals include setting up a national security council, headed by the monarch, which falls under government jurisdiction, a move some experts and politicians see as a check on the monarchy’s power.
“We are intent on making a qualitative jump in the political and parliamentarian life,” the king told the committee’s chairman, former prime minister Samir Al Rifai. He said that he wanted reforms to “enlarge the base of participation in decision-making”.
Mr Rifai heads a 92-member committee on the reforms, which has been asked by the king to find “consensually agreed-on draft laws that guarantee gradual transition into the full realisation of future goals and the fair representation of citizens across the nation”.
Reforms could also widen the representation of women and political parties in an expanded 138-member assembly, while the candidacy age for elected deputies could be lowered to 25.
The Royal Committee to Modernise the Political System has now sent the reforms to the House Legal Committee for review.
Parliamentary speaker Abdel Karim Al Daghmi said that parliament, through a legal committee, will work to open a national dialogue with all political parties, civil society institutions and citizens to discuss the reforms.
"The committee will start working on constitutional amendments before working on election laws so that the laws will later be in harmony with the constitution," he said. The completion of the constitution, he said, would pave the way for reform laws.
Mr Al Daghmi said on Facebook that Jordan is "persistently seeking to develop partisan life, to advance the general political situation and move forward in a new phase of modernisation".
The reform effort comes as Jordan grapples with a surge in unemployment after the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit the country’s tourism revenue hard.
Unemployment is “the biggest threat” to stability in the kingdom, according to Jordan's Minister of Finance Mohamad Al Ississ. “The numbers keep us up at night” he said in September at an event at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
The kingdom is engaged in a number of economic reforms aimed at kick-starting growth.
The IMF in November called for “continued high-quality reforms to enhance the efficiency and transparency of public finances”, after revising its 2021 growth forecast down from 2.5 per cent to 2 per cent.
“Despite the challenging circumstances brought on by the pandemic, sound policies have helped maintain macroeconomic stability,” the IMF said.