King Abdullah II has announced the creation of an independent commission to oversee elections
Jordan's King Abdullah II attends a ceremony in Amman on August 14, 2011 where he unveiled constitutional reform proposals. © Yousef Allan - AFP/Petra/File
King Abdullah II has announced the creation of an independent commission to oversee elections
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Musa Hattar, AFP
Last updated: August 20, 2011

Jordan political reform plans welcomed

Jordan has taken a "positive step" in drawing up plans to reform its constitution, analysts said as opposition leaders said the move was insufficient to effect political change.

The proposals, including the creation of a constitutional court, come as Jordan has been beset for months by growing popular demands for political, economic and social reform, after Arab uprisings overthrew leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and shook other regional states.

"It's a positive step in the right direction," Mohammad Masri, researcher at the University of Jordan's Centre for Strategic Studies, told AFP.

"The constitution has been burdened with many amendments since the 1950s that have created imbalance between the different powers in Jordan," he added.

Masri said that the "suggested amendments are likely to re-establish balance and enhance separation of powers.

"The regime has realised that things in Jordan cannot continue the way they were before Arab revolts."

Political analyst and columnist Oreib Rintawi agreed.

"The proposals create the right balance, boost the role of parliament, stop government encroachment and protect the judiciary," said Rintawi, who heads the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies.

King Abdullah II announced recommendations made by the Royal Committee on Constitutional Review, which he named in April, including the creation of an independent commission to oversee elections and lowering the age of candidates for parliament from 35 to 25.

Under the proposals, governments can no longer issue temporary laws except in times of war and natural catastrophe and in cases of financial expenditure that cannot be postponed.

In addition the jurisdiction of the military state security court, accused by activists of being illegal, should be limited to cases of high treason, espionage and terrorism.

"The outcome of the committee's work establishes the foundation for constitutional reform, which is a must for achieving comprehensive democratic reforms, empowering people and strengthening the state," senate president Taher Masri, a former prime minister who is now a member of the committee, told reporters on Tuesday.

But the powerful opposition Islamists say the proposals, which did not meet one of their key demands to elect a prime minister, are not enough.

"They have failed to meet the requirements of the current local and regional situation. They did not live up to people's expectations," said Zaki Bani Rsheid, head of the political office of the Islamic Action Front (IAF).

"We need more amendments to empower the people. We need to have parliamentary governments in line with fair elections," Bani Rsheid told AFP.

Mu'ath Khawaldeh, a spokesman for the Youth and Popular Reform Movements, welcomed the constitutional suggestions, but said they have "ignored major popular demands."

"We have been protesting for months, demanding much-needed reforms which are essential for the future, but we saw nothing of our demands in the proposals," he said.

Inspired by their peers in Egypt and Tunisia, young Jordanians, who represent 70 percent of the population of more than six million, have joined the Islamists and other groups in demanding economic and political reform, including a new electoral law and an elected prime minister.

The IAF has demanded the king appoint the leader of a parliamentary majority as prime minister.

But researcher Mohammad Masri said "this does not need a constitutional provision."

"The king appoints prime ministers, and parliament has the right not to grant a vote of confidence. So there is balance between powers," said Masri.

For Mohammad Momani, a political science professor at the Yarmuk University, "the proposals cannot meet each and every demand in Jordan."

"Rejecting them because they did not meet certain demands for certain groups is an unconstructive and nihilistic attitude," said Momani.

"The proposals create the foundation for an active parliamentary life."

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