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Note: Responding to popular demands within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for political reforms King Abdullah II has announced a series of Royal Discussion Papers outlining his vision. The first in the series was published on 29 December 2012 and was followed by two other Discussion Papers on 16 January and 3 March 2013. The first two were published before the parliament elections held on 22 January 2013. Given the importance of these Royal Documents, the MEI@ND is publishing them for wider dissemination and deliberations. Earlier Papers were published on Monday and Tuesday. Editor, MEI@MD.
The transition to parliamentary government, like democracy itself, is always work in progress. Stakeholders at every level must constantly be aware of their role in shaping the future. In this third discussion paper on Jordan's political evolution, I would like to focus on our collective way forward, after the landmark parliamentary elections of 23 January 2013.
These elections had double significance: They were important per se, and marked a milestone on Jordan's reform path. The democratic and transparent environment in which these elections were held earned them unprecedented national, Arab, and international praise. Voter registration reached 70 per cent, and the almost 57 per cent turnout was one of highest in our history and internationally. Such participation compares favourably with recent Arab elections, approaching the 62 per cent turnouts in Egypt and Libya, and significantly higher than Morocco's 45 per cent (a result which itself deservedly won international praise). Another noteworthy feature in Jordan was urban participation, which increased by approximately 30 per cent in Amman and Zarqa.
The importance of our election was reflected in the record number of candidates. Eighty percent of political parties participated. First-time Members of Parliament (MPs) make up 61 percent of the new Parliament, showing that the country is more than capable of political renewal.
These polls – overseen for the first time by an independent electoral commission, and monitored by international and local observers – brought about a much more representative Parliament. There are blocs from across the spectrum, representing nationalist, Islamist, and leftist parties, as well as popular movements’ leaders and activists. The election of eighteen women is a source of special pride: Three women won as leaders of national tickets and local district representatives, in addition to the 15 women who sit in the new Parliament under the women’s quota.
We shall continue to build on this experience, develop and enhance it. All Jordanians can, and I hope will, contribute, through their continuous, active and responsible participation. But to be effective, parliamentary government will also require properly functioning national political parties with strong platforms, based on a solid framework of national democratic values, enrooted as a democratic culture not just in our institutions but also in our political life. The challenge ahead, for all elements of our political system and all Jordanians, is to deepen this culture.
The values needed for a successful democratic transition to parliamentary government are long familiar to Jordanians. Among the most essential are pluralism, tolerance, the rule of law, separation of powers, protection of the inalienable rights of every citizen and group, and guaranteeing that every shade of political opinion gets a fair chance to compete at the ballot boxes. All these guarantees are essential to ensure that at each stage of our country's evolution, both the will of the majority and the rights of all can be secured. In this context, it is essential that we keep developing our electoral system, through our constitutional institutions, so that it becomes fairer and more representative, nurtures pluralism, provides a level playing field, and is conducive to the formation of party-based parliamentary governments.
The basic form of parliamentary government stipulates a relationship between the legislative and executive authorities whereby the executive is accountable to the parliamentary majority through the vote of confidence. This is what the Jordanian Constitution stipulates. Among the major developments we have achieved in this regard through the recent constitutional amendments was the change to the vote of confidence mechanism. Now a parliamentary majority is required to grant confidence in the Prime Minister and government-designate as well as its policy statement, while in the past a parliamentary majority was required to deny confidence in the government-designate.
Our efforts to deepen parliamentary government will develop gradually and in tandem with the development of political parties and parliamentary work over the coming parliamentary cycles. This approach was also developed by introducing a mechanism for consultations with the Lower House to achieve consensus on the designation of a Prime Minister, who, in turn, will have to consult with the Lower House on the Cabinet’s composition and the policy statement that will constitute the government’s program.
In various international parliamentary government practices, the Prime Minister-designate and Cabinet team may emanate from Parliament or not, or the Cabinet may be a mix of MPs and technocrats. General political practice in parliamentary governments worldwide allows for MPs to serve as ministers, and so does our Constitution, but in parallel with a set of fundamental requirements:
The on-going national debate provides a constructive democratic framework to deepen our parliamentary government experience and develop the mechanism for consultations on the selection of the next Prime Minister and whether to include MPs in government and in what percentage.
Every actor in our political system – every institution and public figure, but most importantly, each of you, as citizens – has a vital role to play in deepening and strengthening this democratic culture. In what follows, I would like to discuss the evolution of these roles, including my role as monarch, and the responsibilities we all must assume as engaged and responsible citizens.
Democracy is not just about individuals expressing opinions and points of view. It is about aggregating what individuals say into a set of concrete proposals for joint action that will move the country forward. This is the key role of political parties.
In recent years, I have outlined on many occasions my vision for our political system: A small number of major, nationally based political parties, representing views across the spectrum. Only such a system is capable of offering the competition of ideas Jordan needs, as well as achieving the necessary parliamentary consensus on actions to be taken.
It will take us time to develop political parties with the breadth and capability to play this role. In other modern transitioning democracies, such as those in Eastern Europe during the 1990s, it took several election cycles and more than a decade for fragile, fragmented party structures to coalesce into true national parties that could govern effectively. But the alternative to properly functioning, national political parties is a continuation of weak coalitions, pieced together out of political expediency rather than solidly built on meaningful party platforms and ideas. In other countries, such conditions have produced unstable, unrepresentative governments, and Jordan deserves better.
The focus in the future should be on how to promote national political parties so that voters vote for party based candidates. In this respect, Jordan's political parties have a challenge and a responsibility:
It is my hope that the process of party formation and development takes place as fast as possible in the coming years. I encourage all Jordanians to participate in forging new, broad-based and representative political parties for our future.
It is the solemn duty of Parliament to enact legislation in the best interest of the country and also to hold the Government to account for its decisions. Parliament, in turn, is accountable to the citizens who elected its members. This is the basis for the important responsibilities each MP must fulfil:
In the days ahead, I encourage all MPs and parliamentary blocs to work with determination to develop a parliamentary code of conduct, and internal bylaws of Parliament that will enshrine these responsibilities and translate them into practice. III.
It is the responsibility of the government, led by the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, to formulate and implement a comprehensive programme of action to enhance the prosperity and security of all Jordanians. The government must present its four-year programme to Parliament and is then held accountable for its implementation.
As we move into a new era of parliamentary government, the role of Prime Minister, as well as the skills and attributes required for the post, will evolve. In addition to leading a team of highly competent Ministers and mobilizing the resources of the Civil Service to implement the government’s programme in a transparent, timely and efficient manner, the Prime Minister must also interact effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, most importantly the Parliament. Responsibilities that are essential today will become even more vital:
A key part of our political evolution is the development of the role of the Hashemite Constitutional Monarchy. The Hashemite Monarchy has never and will never lose sight of its paramount objective – to safeguard Jordan’s prosperity, stability, security, and unity, and ensure the wellbeing of Jordanians. At the same time, the Hashemite Monarchy has constantly evolved with the times and people’s aspirations. As our democracy evolves and achieves the milestones I have put forward, it is both inevitable and desirable for the role of the Monarchy to evolve.
Let me start by outlining the monarchy’s core responsibilities that remain critical for our nation:
As a sign of the evolution of the Monarchy’s role, my constitutional responsibilities have already begun to change, with the recent constitutional amendments establishing new parameters for the monarch’s powers. These amendments enhanced our democracy and enabled citizens to participate more effectively.
The Monarchy's role in the formation of governments will continue to evolve in tandem with our maturing parliamentary system. Elements of this maturity, discussed in this and the previous discussion paper, include: Functioning, professional political parties that produce qualified and experienced candidates; party platforms that articulate policies and programmes that voters can weigh; and working processes and structures for parliamentary decision-making, including evidence-based policy proposals from the Civil Service, and active citizen participation.
Building on these foundations of an effective parliamentary government system, we will move towards the point in which a majority coalition of parties in Parliament forms the government. In this process, I pledge to uphold the safeguards noted above, which are my solemn duty to my people. The Monarchy will continue to serve as the guarantor of the Constitution and safeguards of neutrality, stability and justice, which are explained in this part of the paper and need to be enhanced and enrooted in parallel to the maturation of our parliamentary system. This is a critical set of responsibilities for the Monarchy, along with its role to break parliamentary and governmental deadlocks, and to protect Jordan's national security, unity, and integrity in the face of serious threats that endanger our ability to move the country forward.
The success of this evolution demands that all stakeholders in the reform process rise to the challenge and achieve the necessary levels of national political maturity, so that the country and the citizens are not let down. In this way, through our constitutional institutions, we can achieve the highest possible levels of national consensus needed to realize the future our citizens aspire to.
In short, we must act collectively to achieve the reform milestones that lie ahead. I will continue to do my part to enhance political maturity and encourage participation within our society, by remaining the guarantor of our comprehensive reform efforts, championing constructive dialogue among citizens, and safeguarding our stability, security and achievements.
My vision for the evolution of the Monarchy is self-motivated and unwavering. I have been reflecting on this vision, on the record, since the early years of my constitutional responsibilities. It is an inclusive vision that does not side with any political group. It is a vision that sides with Jordan and all Jordanians.
The Monarchy’s progressive role that I envision began with sincere efforts for comprehensive reforms, on parallel tracks, including socio-economic initiatives to empower and expand the middle class – the main driver of political reform. The Arab Spring and its Jordanian dynamics opened new horizons and allowed us to usher in a new wave of reforms and to embark on an irreversible renaissance. It is a future I embrace; one in which all our people will have a voice; one in which no one is excluded from prosperity, security and success.
The final element I wish to discuss is the role of the citizen – the ultimate foundation of our democratic system. Citizen engagement is key to developing the properly functioning political parties we need. Citizens also have the ultimate say in holding government accountable, through their votes, their awareness, and their participation.
Fulfilling these vital responsibilities rests on the four core principles for democratic engagement outlined in my first discussion paper: Respect for all fellow citizens, not just those we know or agree with; accountability to one another; honest, constructive dialogue; and sincere compromise.
Voting in elections is one part of this role. I commend all Jordanians who exercised their democratic rights and made their voice heard in the recent election.
But while voting is vital, it is not nearly enough in itself. Holding our government and Parliament accountable requires action by citizens each and every day. Three areas of activity are central:
Today, our citizens' role in building a healthy democratic society is monumental. All Jordanians should take heart from the multiplicity of tools to make their voices heard – from exercising their duty to vote in parliamentary and municipal elections, in addition to universities, professional unions; to forming NGOs or community-based organizations; to writing letters and petitions, blogging, social media, and beyond.
The January elections were a major step, but not the end of our journey. With the elections now behind us, I look forward to working together with successive governments, Parliaments, civil society institutions, and with you – the citizens – to improve the well-being and opportunities of all Jordanians. The change of the modus operandi of the Lower House and the government, in line with what I envisioned in this paper, and the recent Speech from the Throne, will play a key role in our path of democratization and comprehensive reform as we seek parliamentary and governmental stability, so that Parliament and government can carry out their work in a constructive atmosphere over a full four-year term, as long as the government maintains the confidence of the Lower House, and the Lower House maintains the confidence of the people.
Over these coming years, I know that we as the people of Jordan will collaborate and learn together as we continue to develop our democracy. I have confidence that the wisdom and energy of the Jordanian people will make this journey a success.
We will encounter real challenges along the way. At times, this effort will feel unfamiliar and difficult. This is to be expected, because we are doing something truly different for the sake of a better future. I know we will confront and overcome these challenges together. Democracies do this better than any other system of governance, because everyone has a voice and a role to play.