Jordan’s king promises democratic change

Abdullah meets popular demand for elected cabinets but offers no timetable, saying sudden change could lead to “chaos”.

 Many Jordanians want the king to loosen his absolute grip on power, which includes appointing the prime minister [AFP]

Jordan’s king has bowed to popular demands for elected cabinets but given no timetable, saying that sudden change could lead to “chaos and unrest” in this country that has averted the turmoil seen in other Arab nations.

It is the first time that King Abdullah II has made such a concession to Jordanians, who have taken to the streets during six months of pro-democracy protests to demand a greater political say.

In the televised speech on Sunday marking his 12th year as Jordan’s ruler, Abdullah said that future cabinets will be formed according to an elected parliamentary majority.

Abdullah added that the changes would be implemented based on the recommendations of a national dialogue committee, that has recently proposed laws governing elections and political parties.

The committee is also reviewing economic legislation to tackle official corruption, nepotism and bureaucracy.

Many Jordanians want the king to loosen his absolute grip on power, which includes appointing prime ministers and cabinets.

Labib Kamhawi, a political analyst, said “the king’s remarks were a step forward, but we have to wait and see the final outcome”.

Analyst Salama Nematt discusses the king’s speech

Kamhawi, who is usually an outspoken critic of Abdullah’s policies, said: “The speech was positive on critical issues like electing a prime minister in the future.

“But we want to see more being done for wider civil liberties and less security interference in the affairs of the state.”

Abdullah also promised further changes without elaborating, saying that a royal commission is now exploring “possible amendments” to the constitution appropriate for Jordan’s “present and future”.

Jordanians have been demanding a new parliament that would replace the existing one that is widely seen as docile. A small group of activists also says it wants the king to also relinquish all his power and become only a figure head of state.

But major political parties such as the powerful Muslim Brotherhood have rejected that call, describing the king a “stabilising influence”.

Jamil Abu Bakr, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, warned reforms were needed to “avoid the tragedies taking place in the region”.

The Jordanian government has lifted restrictions on public assembly, allowing protesters to demonstrate freely. But it has said it needs time to enact laws on political freedoms, including those addressing election and political parties.

At the outset of protests, Abdullah sacked his prime minister in February, responding to protesters demands that he was insensitive to their economic hardships.

Protests in Jordan have been relatively smaller and generally peaceful, although there was one person killed in unrest.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies