In Jordan, the show must go on

Despite protests, including ones calling for his downfall, King Abdullah says to press forth with polls

There were expectations that King Abdullah may postpone the upcoming parliamentary election to pull Jordan out of its political crisis. But after meeting with his cabinet on Monday, he announced the election would be held as planned on January 23, 2013.

He has since ordered the government to continue with preparations for the polls.

Following violent riots and angry protests against fuel price hikes in mid-November and the arrest of dozens of protesters who, for the very first time, called for the “downfall of the regime”, veteran former politicians close to King Abdullah urged him to postpone the upcoming election.
They felt that tension and discontent on the street had reached unprecedented levels and that an election based on the unpopular one-man-one-vote law would only further aggravate the people.

The Muslim Brotherhood, represented by its political arm the Islamic Action Front Party, as well as several other opposition groups, announced months ago they would not participate in an election they say is based on an undemocratic law they have been opposing since 1993.
Hamza Mansour, secretary-general of the Islamic Action Front Party, had also said the best exit strategy for Jordan’s predicament would be to postpone elections.

He called on the king to recall the parliament he dissolved last October, order MPs to reconvene in order to amend the election law and then hold elections.

An election law amendment that meets the opposition’s aspirations would have encouraged wide participation in the poll and therefore, contain and curb protests.

Constitutionally, after the monarch dissolves parliament, early elections must take place within six months.

If the six months pass and no election is held, the dissolved parliament resumes its duties as if it were never dissolved.

Mansour’s proposal was perfectly in line with the constitution because it would have allowed for enough time to amend the law into a more acceptable one for the opposition and hold early elections before the six month deadline in April.

King Abdullah still has time to postpone elections if he wants to.

But right now such a move would be explained as a political weakness.

With President Bashar Al Assad struggling to hold onto power in neighbouring Syria, the last thing Jordan wants to show is that it’s rattled by its emboldened opposition.

Furthermore, to many in the government and security establishment, appeasing the opposition could open the door to strident demands for even bigger concessions from the monarch.

Jordanians were outraged by the hikes in the price of fuel derivatives and cooking gas announced two weeks ago – anywhere between 14 and 55 per cent.

The hikes were a result of the government lifting fuel subsidies on these items in order to implement fiscal policies stipulated by the International Monetary Fund as a condition to qualify for two billion dollar loan.

Now, we’re hearing of an imminent removal of government subsidies on electricity and water.

Analysts say this would be political suicide, that the people’s grievances and resentment of such measures will stoke even more protests and riots.

That’s what Mansour told us after he found out the king had no intention to postpone elections.

With a series of challenges – an economic crisis, a political deadlock, five different prime ministers in under two years, and rising unrest in neighbouring countries – the capabilities of the nation’s rulers are facing major challenges.

In short, Jordan’s immediate future is looking increasingly bleak.