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Lower House endorses constitutional amendments by landslide majority

By Khaled Neimat - Aug 25,2014 - Last updated at Aug 25,2014

AMMAN — The Lower House on Sunday endorsed the draft amendments to the Constitution by an overwhelming majority, giving the sole power to the King to hire and fire army and intelligence chiefs.

The changes also expanded the powers of the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) and restricted the mandate of the military to defence affairs.

During its session on Sunday, 118 out of the 150 MPs voted in favour of the amendments after a heated debate over the rationale behind such a change in the basic law.

They endorsed amendments that granted the King the exclusive right to appoint the chairman of the army’s Joint Chiefs-of-Staff and the General Intelligence Department director. They expanded such roles for the King to include ending the services and accepting resignations of the two commanders. This addition to the draft amendments came after Prime Minster Abdullah Ensour agreed to a proposal by former Lower House Speaker Abdul Karim Dughmi. 

Subsequently, the new paragraph of Article 127 of the Constitution will read: “Despite what has been stated in Article 40 of the Constitution, the King appoints the chairman of the army’s Joint Chiefs-of-Staff and the General Intelligence Department director, and he ends their services and accept their resignations.”

As per the current Constitution, the King appoints the army and intelligence chiefs upon a recommendation from the government.

Few MPs called for rejecting the amendment, arguing that it would lead to “encroachment on the executive authority”.

Also during the Sunday's session, the MPs voted in favour of an amendment of Paragraph 1 of the same article that restricts the army's duty to defending the country and ensuring its safety.

"The army’s duty is only to defend the nation and its safety," states the text endorsed by the MPs during the session. The army has been engaged in several logistic and investment activities over the past decade. The amendment will lead to placing all these activities, including affiliated investment entities, under the jurisdiction of the Defence Ministry, whose role will be activated.

Inevitably, the MPs voted "yes" to the amendments, ending almost one week of debate and deliberations over the issue.

The session also witnessed the MPs’ endorsement of another amendment to Article 67 of the Constitution in which the IEC’s jurisdiction has been expanded to administer parliamentary and municipal elections, in addition to any other polls assigned by the government.

The amendments came as part of the country's attempt to further speed up the political reform process to pave the way for the adoption of a parliamentary government system. 

The amendment also grants the Cabinet the right to assign the commission with administering any other election.

These amendments need to be endorsed by the Senate and then ratified by His Majesty King Abdullah before they become effective, starting from the day of publishing them in the Official Gazette.

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