UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
JORDAN: Year in Brief 2005 - A chronology of democratic developments
DUBAI, 15 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - The population of Jordan is divided into two main groups: Transjordanians (East Bankers), the original inhabitants of Jordan, and Palestinians (West Bankers) who have settled in Jordan since the creation of Israel in 1948. No official figures are available on the numbers of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, which remains a highly sensitive issue, but conservative estimates put the figure at some 50 percent of the population.
Legislative power is vested in the national assembly, which consists of two houses, and the king, who must take an oath to respect and observe the provisions of the constitution. As head of state, however, he is immune from liability. Ministers are appointed by the king, not parliament, and do not have to be members of parliament.
The Islamic Action Front (IAF), with 17 seats in parliament, is by far the largest organised party. The remaining deputies belong to centrist and tribal groupings with a small number of secular, left-wing and Pan-Arab nationalist parties.
1989: After riots over price rises, King Hussein bin Talal takes cautious steps towards democratisation, reviving parliamentary elections after decades of martial law.
1993: Parliamentary elections, the first multi-party polls since 1956, enhance Jordan’s reputation as one of the more open and democratic Arab states. Although Jordanian women have enjoyed the right to stand for elections for over two decades, it is only in 1993 that the first female deputy, Toujan Faisal, is elected.
1994: Jordan signs a peace treaty with Israel, ending a 46-year war between the two countries.
August 1996: Riots break out in southern city of Karak after a government decision to lift subsidies on bread. King Hussein blames the riots on foreign agitation and vows to respond with an iron fist.
November 1996: King Hussein orders the release of a leading opposition figure, Laith Shubailat, who was jailed in March for branding the monarch a traitor for making peace with Israel.
November 1997: Parliamentary elections are boycotted by Islamists, the main opposition parties and several independent figures, most of whom opposed the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. They accuse successive governments appointed by King Hussein of sidelining parliament and eroding democratic gains made since 1989.
June 1998: The government unveils amendments to an already tough 1993 press law which further tightens restrictions on the press. The government denies that it is trying to gag criticism of an unpopular peace treaty with Israel.
February 1999: King Abdullah II bin al Hussein takes over the throne after the death of his father, King Hussein bin Talal.
March 1999: King Abdullah takes his first major executive step, dismissing Prime Minister Fayez al-Tarawneh and replacing him with veteran politician Abdul Raouf al Rawabdeh, mandated with strengthening the rule of law and introducing further democratisation. Left-wing and Islamist opposition parties oppose Rawabdeh’s government. The same month, King Abdullah releases almost 500 prisoners as part of a royally-decreed amnesty.
July 1999: Municipal elections are conducted throughout the country, marking the return of the IAF to formal politics after the party boycotted parliamentary elections in 1997.
September 1999: Parliament approves amendments to the press law although critics remain dissatisfied with clauses that permit the imprisonment of journalists and impose crippling fines on papers which publish articles deemed harmful to national unity and security.
April 2000: More than 50 members of parliament severely criticise the government’s handling of domestic affairs in an unprecedented letter to King Abdullah. They accused him of undermining his pledge to create a society based on equal opportunity, adherence to the rule of law and respect for public freedoms.
June 2000: King Abdullah dismisses Prime Minister al Rawabdeh and replaces him with liberal-leaning businessman Ali Abu Ragheb. King Abdullah entrusts Ragheb with ensuring the principle of equal opportunity for all Jordanian citizens and drafting a modern electoral law to pave the way for free parliamentary elections in 2001. Free-market advocate Abu Ragheb also begins to place greater emphasis on accelerating implementation of IMF-backed economic reforms.
November 1999-February 2000: Despite backing from King Abdullah and his wife Queen Rania, government efforts to repeal article 340 of the penal code relating to "honour killings" are twice rejected by a conservative parliament in Nov 1999 and Feb 2000. The article permits leniency for those found guilty of murdering or injuring female relatives in the name of family honour. Around 3,000 Jordanians, led by King Abdullah’s brother, Prince Ali, march in February 2000 to demand the scrapping of Article 340.
October 2000: The Jordanian government issues a ban on street protests against Israel, saying hooligans are exploiting public sentiment by vandalising public property. The government deploys hundreds of anti-riot police and fires teargas to control hundreds of stone-throwing youngsters in Palestinian refugee camps near Amman.
June 2001: King Abdullah dissolves parliament at the end of its four-year term. The government subsequently introduces a series of extraordinary laws placing tough curbs on civil liberties and freedoms of speech. Officials justify the measures on grounds of national security.
July 2001: King Abdullah invokes an article in the 1952 constitution to allow him to delay elections, due in November, citing procedural problems. A new electoral law is passed by the government lowering the voting age from 19 to 18, increasing the number of parliamentary seats from 80 to 104, streamlining the election process, and setting new safeguards against fraud. It fails to address loopholes in the voting system favouring tribal constituencies over the largely Palestinian cities, which are under-represented in parliament.
August 2001: King Abdullah warns the country’s Islamist-led opposition to abide by the law after it stages anti-Israeli protests in defiance of the authorities.
August 2002: King Abdullah postpones parliamentary elections until spring 2003, blaming regional tensions caused by the imminent US-led invasion of Iraq.
November 2002: At least seven people are killed when riots take place in the desert city of Ma’an, 250 km south of the capital, after counter-terrorism forces launch a hunt for Islamist militants said to be linked to the killing of a US diplomat in Amman in October. On 21 November, the state prosecutor formally charges 120 people with conducting terrorist activities.
February 2003: King Abdullah issues an amendment to the 2001 electoral law giving women a six-seat quota in the 110-seat lower house of parliament.
March 2003: The US-led war against Iraq begins. Several anti-US demonstrations are sanctioned by the government across the country, despite a ban on public gatherings and unlicensed street demonstrations. Two weeks into the invasion, more than 90 prominent persons – including former prime ministers, cabinet ministers and members of parliament – urge King Abdullah to make a declaration on its illegality. Two days later, Abdullah publicly condemns the war in careful terms, stressing that Jordan has done everything within its power to avert it.
June 2003: Parliamentary elections take place on 17 June. Analysts attribute the high voter turnout of 57 percent to Islamist participation in a campaign that was otherwise dominated by tribal candidates. Due to a lopsided system of electoral districting, the new parliament remains largely in the hands of tribal, centrist and pro-government MPs.
July 2003: Jordan’s first elected parliament since King Hussein’s death in 1999 convenes, with the inclusion of Islamists for the first time in six years. The first session of the house pits tribal and pro-government representatives against 17 Islamist deputies who exert limited pressure on the government and improve the image of what had been considered a "rubber stamp" assembly.
October 2003-April 2005: King Abdullah appoints tribal leader and palace chief Faisal Fayez as prime minister, sacking Abu al-Ragheb, whose administration was accused by liberal and Islamist opponents alike of spawning corruption and nepotism. The curtailing of freedoms justified by security concerns had also provoked anger against the outgoing PM.
January 2005: In a televised address to the nation, King Abdullah announces plans for the creation of directly elected regional councils, but the scope and powers of the assemblies – part of a decentralisation drive – are still to be determined.
February 2005: King Abdullah appoints prominent Jordanians to a steering committee assigned with the task of drawing up a "National Agenda," a wide-ranging blue-print for reform.
April-November 2005: A new cabinet, headed by Adnan Badran, a US-educated academic appointed by King Abdullah, is formed to speed up the pace of reform in what many politicians say is a response to outside pressure. The 26-member cabinet includes a new interior minister to replace Samir Habashneh, who had antagonised Jordanian civil rights activists and the Islamist opposition by using heavy-handed police tactics to clamp down on public dissent.
August 2005: A rocket attack on Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba is launched against a US military ship, killing one Jordanian soldier.
November 2005: Three hotels in Amman suffer simultaneous bomb attacks. Al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Jordanian Abu Mu’sab Al-Zarqawi, claims responsibility. The same month, politicians present the National Agenda report to King Abdullah. But the document – which covers legislation, infrastructure, investment, financial reform, labour, education and social welfare – fails to recommend changes to the electoral law, the crux of political reform demands. King Abdullah appoints national security advisor and former military intelligence chief Marouf al Bakheet as prime minister to replace Badran, giving him free reign to adopt tougher security policies after the Amman bombings. Badran had faced unprecedented criticism from parliament for pushing a pro-western reform agenda while ignoring tribal sensitivities.
December 2005: Prime Minister al Bahkeet tells parliament that a heavy-handed security approach will not come at the expense of civil liberties. His pledge fails to ease disquiet among rights activists and opposition politicians who fear a crackdown on freedoms in the coming months under the pretext of a war against Muslim militancy.
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