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Political reform revisited

Sep 24,2018 - Last updated at Sep 24,2018

In his most recent TV interviews, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz pledged that Jordan will have a parliamentarian government in two years to come. His message came amid his attempts to pass the controversial income tax law. Whether he is the man who fits the bill of a reformer is, yet, to be seen. But let us examine the record of reform in Jordan before passing any judgement on the sincerity of the new pledge.

Over the last decade, Jordanian governments have placed substantial political reform on the back burner. The onset of the Arab Spring gave impetus to emerging social groups, mainly youth, who increased pressure on governments to commit to genuine reform. The modest package of reform presented on the heels of a series of back to back demonstrations rang hollow among a sizeable segment of the population, particularly with the politically disillusioned activists in Jordan. The government skillfully designed the reform package to reproduce a political status quo that a considerable percentage of Jordanians reject.

The scope of political reform in Jordan has been the product of the interplay between three factors: External actors, the United States and Saudi Arabia, domestic pressure for reform, and, lastly, the government reaction to, and in some cases manipulation of, the aforementioned two.

The top-down reform package was seen as the best way of assuring Jordanians amid a tumultuous region. The entrenched ruling elites exploited regional instability, the Saudi strategy to prop up like-minded regimes, as well as the American fear of short-term instability for its own benefit. Thus, it succeeded in selling a reform package that did not appeal to many Jordanians.

To be honest, reform is not the top priority of the youth, the unemployed and the unemployable. All polls conducted over the last two decades have shown that Jordanians are not happy with the economic situation. Whether real or imagined, corruption is seen as the root cause of the bad economic performance of the country as a whole. Successive governments have paid little attention to the link between corruption and the stagnation of the economy. I personally heard many stories from outgoing prime ministers denying the existence of corruption on the scale being circulated by laymen. And yet, they need to fully appreciate that Jordanians’ impression is the other way around.

How can the incumbent prime minister’s pledge of a parliamentarian government convince the people to support his economic platform that is not different from the one adopted by previous governments? But also let me be blunt and ask if the prime minister’s notion of political reform reflects the official position of the state.

If I were close to the prime minister, I would advise him that there are three parametres for his success from the street’s perspective: reducing poverty, addressing unemployment and putting a cap on inflation. Short of scoring high on these three benchmarks, the street will turn against him. So, no amount of promises and words can make up for bad policies.

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