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Opposition has little hope House can rise to expectations over constitutional amendments
Sep 19,2011 - Last updated at Sep 19,2011
By Taylor Luck
AS DEPUTIES continue discussions over constitutional amendments, opposition is heating up over a proposal they believe falls short of reformists’ aspirations, although almost all opposition figures have commended the changes as a step in the right direction, “but more can be done”.
With lawmakers and experts expecting little more than minor changes to the proposed amendments, activists claim citizens have largely been shut out of the process, while leading deputies insisted that all sectors were represented in the hearings held by the House Legal Committee.
As lawmakers began deliberations over the proposed amendments last week, a few thousands have hit the streets from Parliament to Karak to express their rejection of the measures.
Saed Ouran of the Free Tafileh Movement, one of several so-called popular movements which took to the streets over the weekend to protest the amendments, claims that citizens lack faith in the Lower House to properly vet the proposed constitutional changes.
“This Parliament does not represent the people; this process is illegal, and we will continue to protest until they listen to our demands,” Ouran said.
Activists argue that a Parliament elected under what experts and officials have deemed as a flawed elections law lacks the legitimacy to pass a package of amendments constituting the greatest overhaul of the political system in decades.
“The people should be the source of power, and it is they who should decide on these amendments - not a lame-duck Parliament.”
In their protests, activists and opposition parties have criticised the “underwhelming” changes made by the Lower House Legal Committee - slight changes to the wording of several articles - and deputies’ unwillingness to introduce new amendments to the package of articles referred by the government.
Legal Committee Chairman Abdul Karim Dughmi defended the changes made to the amendments as deputies fulfilling their role in the democratic process.
“The committee examined each word of each article very carefully - citizens’ interests were taken into account in every step,” Dughmi said.
During the deliberations over the changes, the veteran MP cited the Constitution as prohibiting lawmakers from adding any new amendments to list submitted to the House.
According to Jamil Nimri, Irbid MP and chairman of the Lower House Guidance Committee, deputies have gone to lengths to ensure that citizens across the country were included in the constitutional reform process.
“The Legal Committee met with political parties, with citizens, with professional associations to discuss these amendments openly. These aren’t new revelations - people have been given the chance to make their positions known and we will take them into account,” Nimri said.
A large portion of any resistance to the amendments stems from a lack of education, deputies say.
A recent poll by the University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies revealed that nearly two-thirds of citizens - some 62 per cent - were unfamiliar with the amendments, while 72 per cent of citizens who were aware of the proposal approved of the changes.
With the package of amendments expected to be passed by the end of the month, deputies lack the time needed to take their case to constituencies and build popular support, according to Abdullah Ensour, veteran Salt MP and former foreign minister.
“Under ordinary circumstances it would take a whole year to consider these amendments. We are speaking here about over one-third of the Constitution,” Ensour said.
“The timetable is very tight,” he said.
While not an elected or governmental body, the Royal Committee on Constitutional Review, a technical advisory committee comprising elder statesmen, acted on behalf of citizens by weighing each social and political issue before drafting the recommendations, observers argue.
The amendments’ path to ratification - advisory panel recommendations vetted by the government and voted upon by the Lower House - represents a more transparent approach than previous attempts at constitutional reform, according to analyst and legal expert Nawaf Tal.
“If we compare this to previous amendments, or even the 1952 Constitution itself, this mechanism is far more open than the original Constitution and all the amendments that came later on,” Tal said.
In the committee’s proposal, the amendments included several of the opposition’s demands over the last few years: the establishment of a constitutional court, an independent electoral commission and a restriction of the government’s ability to pass temporary laws in the absence of Parliament.
The opposition maintains, however, that the amendments fall short of expectations by not including articles leading to the establishment of governments formed by parliamentary majorities.
“Executive power must lie in the hands of the people. Governments must be formed from a parliamentary majority - this should be at the very top of the amendments,” said Zaki Bani Rsheid, head of the Islamic Action Front’s political office.
Opposition figures point to an elected or partially elected Upper House as another major demand absent in the proposed articles.
“Our top demand from these amendments was the formation of an elected government and an elected Senate,” said Jamil Abu Baker, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman.
“Until we see this, and we don’t see this Parliament capable of achieving this, we will continue to reject these amendments.”
Abla Abu Olbeh, Amman MP and the lone opposition member under the Dome, said that although “disappointing,” the amendments represent a step forward in the reform process.
“We were hoping for a greater role for political parties in governance. Without this, the amendments are incomplete,” Abu Olbeh said.
Despite activists’ objections, the general public will likely accept the current amendments as a concrete step towards reform following several months of rhetoric, protests and posturing, according to analyst Hassan Barari.
“People want to see an endgame - they want to see amendments ratified by Parliament. One way to get out of this prolonged political crisis is by getting out these amendments,” Barari said.
As deputies resume deliberations with less than two weeks left in their preset deadline, experts say pressure will be on lawmakers to win public confidence in a process that will dictate the Kingdom’s path to reform for decades to come.
“At the end of the day, the greatest threat to these amendments is apathy,” Tal said.
“Having no-one care is more dangerous than any opposition could ever hope to be.”
Starting its discussions over the proposed constitutional amendments with various segments of society, the Lower House Legal Committee on Sunday held two separate brainstorming sessions with representatives of the Kingdom’s political parties and professional associations.
The committee tasked with revisiting the Constitution has a Royal “carte blanche” to propose amendments that serve the aspired political reforms in the Kingdom, a member said on Saturday.
Lower House Speaker Faisal Fayez has expected the current Parliament to be dissolved in July or August next year and early elections be held in the fall of the same year.
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