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Jordan - Politics

There is a great disparity between the rich and the poor in the kingdom and there is a lot of conspicuous consumption, and people see it. Poverty rates are running at 25 percent in the desert kingdom. Demand for change and the resulting conflict experienced during Arab Spring movements in other countries has been more muted in Jordan, but by late 2012 that appeared to be changing.

Angry Jordanians, fed up with economic constraints that have led to higher gas prices, took their ire out on their king in mid-November 2012 in mass protests - a rare public display against the monarchy. King Abdullah had fired four prime ministers in the past year and has backed an election law that reduced the independence and influence of opposition parties. His popularity is diminishing as popular protests grew. The issue is the silent majority which is the crux of the opposition in Jordan. A lot of people are not happy and they are angry - they are secular - and most of their resentments come from economic hardships and corruption in the country. Also people are very upset at - if they want to read the future it is doom and gloom.

On November 14, 2012 Jordanian teachers went on strike hours after the government increased fuel prices in a bid to qualify for much-needed international aid. Prime Minister Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced the decision to cancel fuel subsidies and therefore raise prices to consumers -- during a Tuesday evening TV newscast. At midnight, the price of gasoline was raised by as much as 14 percent and cooking gas by 50 percent. Within minutes of the announcement, protesters crowded the streets in Amman and cities across Jordan chanting slogans and calling for the governments downfall.

The cumulative effect of years of bad policies have destroyed the country, destroyed the economy, destroyed the lives of the Jordanians. Protesters cite high inflation, corruption and a government that repeatedly promises but fails to deliver reform. The protests in Amman were of great concern to the West, where King Abdullah is widely seen as the guarantor of stability - not only in Jordan, but in the tense Middle East. As political change has rolled through the Middle East, Western observers assumed Jordan would remain unaffected. Increasingly, that opinion seems short-sighted.

King Hussein ruled Jordan from 1953 to 1999, surviving a number of challenges to his rule, drawing on the loyalty of his military, and serving as a symbol of unity and stability for both the East Bank and Palestinian communities in Jordan. In 1989 and 1993, Jordan held free and fair parliamentary elections. Controversial changes in the election law led Islamist parties to boycott the 1997 elections. King Hussein ended martial law in 1991 and legalized political parties in 1992.

King Abdullah II succeeded his father Hussein following the latter's death in February 1999. King Abdullah moved quickly to reaffirm Jordan's peace treaty with Israel and its relations with the U.S., and has since focused the government's agenda on economic reform, political development, and poverty alleviation.

Jordan has a population of 6.5 million, more than half of whom are Palestinians, refugees from the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars or their descendants. Demographics are a very sensitive subject in Jordan. For one, some, including factions in Israel, have suggested Jordan as a Palestinian homeland alternative to the West Bank and Gaza a vision that has been deemed unacceptable by both Jordanians and Palestinians. Fear of being outnumbered has also led to a rise of nativist sentiment among Jordans tribes, which seek to protect and preserve Jordan for real Jordanians. These conservative tribal Jordanians, because of the 1970 civil war and a host of other historical legacies, will never, ever accept that their country is majority Palestinian and will do everything in their power to make sure that the monarchy represents the tribal communities before it represents the Palestinians.

Early on in his rein, King Abdullah acknowledged that Palestinians have been marginalized and vowed to change this. At the same time, according to Human Rights Watch, Jordan has arbitrarily stripped thousands of Palestinian Jordanians of their citizenship over the past few years, depriving them of basic rights to education and health care. In 2010, Jordans interior minister denied revoking anyones citizenship, saying Jordan had merely "suspended" giving out social security numbers pending reunification of families" in the West Bank. Some suggest Jordan is trying to control and minimize the demographics of the Palestinian population in an effort to ward off any prospects of being designated a Palestinian homeland.

The government routinely licensed political parties and other associations but prohibited membership in unlicensed political parties. The High Court of Justice may dissolve a party if it concludes that the party violated the constitution or the law. The law stipulates that a political party must have a minimum of 500 founding members from five governorates. Opposition parties, including small parties dissolved in 2007 after the law's enactment, complained that the law was unconstitutional and obstructed political dynamism. Political analysts and opposition parties also called on the government to take active measures to promote party development, including amendments to the electoral system that would place greater emphasis on parties. Political parties, NGOs, and independent candidates found the registration process onerous and costly. Parties criticized the GID's annual screening process of founding members. Political parties complained that the mandated public funding of 50,000 dinars ($71,100) was insufficient to operate effective campaigns.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, in practice the government imposed some restrictions on these rights. Journalists reported that the threat of detention and imprisonment under the penal code for a variety of offenses and stringent fines of as much as 20,000 dinars ($28,000) under the press and publications law for defamation led to self-censorship. The government's use of "soft containment" of journalists, such as financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

The law provides punishment of as long as three years' imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or stirring sectarian strife and sedition. The government regularly fined journalists for such crimes. According to the Amman-based National Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) stated, more than 45 journalists had cases pending before a Jordanian court having been charged with a range of violations, including slander, contempt of court and violating laws, such as the penal code, press and publications law and state security law.

Jordan's continuing structural economic difficulties, burgeoning population, and more open political environment have led to the emergence of a variety of small political parties. The government faces a key decision: accept a moderate Islamic opposition that favors democracy or, by failing to open up the system, create a far more militant Islamic underground bent on direct confrontation with the monarchy.

Jordan held parliamentary elections in June of 2003, when independent candidates allied with the monarchy won most of the seats. The parliamentary elections law historically has under-represented urban areas that are centers of support for Islamist candidates. The Islamic Action Front, the major Islamic party, participated in the June 2003 parliamentary elections and held 17 of the 110 seats. The Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, returned to parliament as part of the opposition. And, a special quota system was devised to also bring in a number of women. But the king's critics say such elections are not enough and Jordan still falls far short of being a true democracy and what little political reform has occurred has come too slowly. Jordanian officials say they are only moving to limit the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

The kingdom held its first municipal elections in July 2007, in which voters picked mayors and council members in all regions apart from Amman. The king retained his authority to make municipal appointments in the capital. Jordan's main opposition party, the Islamist Action Front, boycotted the vote, accusing the government of fraud. Parliamentary elections were held in November 2007. The Islamist opposition lost many of the seats it had gained in 2003. The NCHR, the opposition IAF, and other local observers alleged a number of irregularities, including vote buying, multiple voting, transfer of votes, and exploiting armed forces personnel to vote en masse for progovernment candidates. There were no local or international observers present for the municipal elections, and a limited number of local observers for the parliamentary elections.

King Abdullah dissolved parliament on November 24, 2009, halfway through its four-year term, setting political rights back in 2010. The government ruled by decree through most of 2010, pending new elections. Jordan's General Intelligence Department (GID) continued to influence decisions in most aspects of Jordanian public life, including academic freedom, government appointments, and the issuing of residency permits to non-Jordanians and "good conduct" certificates required for Jordanians seeking work abroad.

Jordan ranked first and Saudi Arabia last in a new report card on the state of democratic reforms in the Arab world. The Arab Democracy Index was released 29 March 2010 in Paris. Published by the The Arab Reform Initiative, or ARI, a network of 14 Arab and international think-tanks, this is only the second report card on the levels of reforms and democracy in the Arab world. None of the 10 Arab countries ranked in the new Arab Democracy Index get high marks. Jordan is ranked first, with a score of 620 out of a possible 1,000 points. Curiously, Jordan does a much better job enshrining democracy through practice than in laws.

The electoral law led to significant underrepresentation in urban areas. Amman's second district has more than 200,000 constituents and was granted four representatives, but Karak's sixth district has approximately 7,000 constituents and was granted three representatives. Many analysts asserted that the current electoral system is unfair and creates a weak, unrepresentative parliament that is intended to reduce the representation of areas heavily populated by citizens of Palestinian origin in favor of tribal interests. The law allows voters to choose one candidate in multiple-seat districts. In the largely tribal society, citizens tended to cast their vote for members of the same tribe.

On July 30, 2010 Jordan's largest opposition group said it would boycott the country's November parliamentary elections. The decision dealt a blow to polls the government hailed as a cornerstone of political reforms. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood Movement based its decision on the fallout from a new electoral law, which it said will undercut the group's robust showing in past elections. The new legislation reduced seats for lawmakers elected from urban areas, where the Brotherhood is popular. It increased seats from rural regions, dominated by pro-government Bedouin tribes. The boycott by the country's largest opposition group left it without a voice in parliament.

More than 700 candidates ran for 120 seats in the lower house of parliament in the 09 November 2010 election that most observers said was devoid of any real opposition. Most of the candidates come from tribes or parties loyal to King Abdullah, after Jordan's largest opposition group decided to boycott the vote. The opposition Islamic Action Front says new election rules unfairly diminish the value of votes from urban areas, where its support is strongest.

Every Friday since late 2010, small groups of protesters gathered across Jordan to air complaints about basic things like rising prices and high unemployment in the kingdom. Fearing a full-scale uprising similar to the one that has gripped neighboring Syria, King Abdullah II early on began promising fundamental reforms. But the protests have begun to escalate, and some analysts fear that if the king doesnt deliver soon, Jordans peaceful Arab Spring could go from a simmer to full boil.

More than one thousand Islamists and leftist demonstrators rallied Sunday 15 January 2011 outside parliament in Amman to demand an end to what they call authoritarian rule in their country. Protesters called for the downfall of the government, pointing to Tunisia as an example. Muslim Brotherhood leader Hammam Said told the crowd that Jordanians have "suffered the same way Tunisians have been suffering." The Islamist leader called for an end to what he called "restrictions on freedom and the people's will." The rally followed nationwide protests Friday when thousands of people demanded the government back down on tough austerity measures, including higher taxes. Demonstrators also rallied against soaring prices and unemployment. The protests are took place despite the government's decision to slash prices for basic goods, including sugar, rice and several types of fuel.

On 18 January 2011 Jordan's powerful Islamist opposition demanded King Abdullah II dissolve the country's newly elected parliament and remove Prime Minister Samir Rifai's government, saying it has failed to implement needed political and economic reforms. Islamic Action Front leader Hamza Mansour Tuesday urged the dissolution of Jordan's lower house of parliament, saying elections held November 9 were marred by fraud. The IAF boycotted the polls after the government failed to adopt a new election law guaranteeing a more equitable distribution of seats that does not favor the king's rural supporters. Mansour also appealed to Abdullah to dismiss the Cabinet and allow an interim government to form "until a Cabinet elected by the people is in place." He did not elaborate on how the new government would be elected.

Protests turned violent in Jordan's capital Friday 18 February 2011 as government supporters clashed with demonstrators calling for political reforms. Witnesses say at least eight people were injured when the government supporters attacked the demonstrators with batons. Hundreds of people gathered in Amman for the pro-reform rally. The demonstrations follow weeks of similar street protests in Jordan that resemble the uprisings spreading through the Arab world. Jordanians are demanding constitutional reforms and limits on King Abdullah's authority.

King Abdullah dismissed his government on Tuesday February 01, 2011 following weeks of public protests for political change. Demonstrators blamed the government for rising fuel and food prices as well as slow political reforms. The protests were similar to those that led to last month's ouster of Tunisia's president. A palace statement said King Abdullah was tasking the new Cabinet with taking "practical and swift" steps to launch what it called "true political reforms." Jordan's prime minister-designate began consultations on forming a new government Wednesday, a day after being appointed by King Abdullah. Marouf al-Bakhit met with Senate President Taher Masri. Jordan's Petra news agency said the two men discussed a need for government reforms. The news agency said Mr. Bakhit pledged to enact reforms as soon as possible.

In October, 2011, Abdullah appointed former Hague Court judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh as prime minister of Jordan, replacing Marouf al-Bakhit who had earlier been accused of corruption. Al-Khasawneh was widely viewed as a clean politician. Al-Khasawneh didnt deliver anything. From the first day, he was blaming other powers for interfering in his government, which was not true. Al-Khasawneh did not even travel to rural areas to visit his constituents, nor did he connect with the people in any other way. He didnt meet with any politicians, political parties or the New Popular Movement.

Multiple cabinet and prime ministerial changes delayed needed legislative reform efforts. Additionally, Jordan was not immune from the dramatic events taking place in the Arab region, and 2011 witnessed numerous, although largely non-violent, demonstrations. These demonstrations were well managed by Jordans security forces, and the country remained politically stable.

In late April 2012, King Abdullah appointed a new prime minister, Fayez Tarawneh, and tasked him with implementing a new electoral law in time for a parliamentary poll later in the year. On October 05, 2012 The Muslim Brotherhood led more than 15,000 chanting protesters through central Amman after Friday prayers demanding an end to corruption and far-reaching political reforms to give Jordanian voters a bigger role in shaping the countrys future. The number of marchers was well below the 50,000 organizers had predicted, but the event took place without a major security problem. A group supporting King Abdullah had planned a march at the same time, but decided to call it off to avoid possible violence.

The January 2013 Chamber of Deputies elections in Jordan was the first parliamentary elections administered under the authority of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which was established in 2012. As a new institution, the IEC faced key challenges in implementing a host of procedures to enable effective administration of the election. The IECs noteworthy list of initiatives includes updating the voter registration process; creating new accommodations for illiterate voters and voters with disabilities; and training polling staff.

On 21 January 2013 Jordanians voted for a new parliament, and foreign election observers reported seeing minor violations, such as campaigning at the polling stations, but overall the process appeared to go smoothly. More than 1,400 candidates are competing for 108 individual seats and 27 reserved for candidates from national party lists. An additional 15 seats are reserved for female politicians. But the influential Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the vote, casting doubt on how influential the body will be. The brotherhood's political wing, the Islamic Action Front, had been at the front of calls for reform in the kingdom at a time of growing calls for reform. The Islamic Action Front objected to the emphasis on individual races rather than party lists, a system that favors tribal and rural connections, often pro-government, over the more urban base of the brotherhood. But the Brotherhood also saw little potential for democratic change in a country where the king ultimately holds all power.

On 31 March 2013 a reformist government, the smallest in four decades, was sworn in by King Abdullah. The new government is led by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, who has merged several portfolios in an attempt to cut spending. Ensour, who was interim prime minister before Januarys elections, ended fuel subsidies at the end of 2012 - a move that triggered protests across the country. This was the first time King Abdullah consulted the parliament over the cabinet's composition, after constitutional changes prompted by the Arab Spring. Jordan is trying hard to curb the impact of rising fuel import costs and high social spending intended to prevent an uprising similar to those seen in neighboring Arab states. In 2013, Jordan faced a $3 billion deficit, and the country hopes to cut it by about a third. Jordan was told by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to abolish the subsidies in order to qualify for a $2 billion loan.

A survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) conducted in June 2016 found that 87 percent of Jordanians believed the most recent parliament had accomplished nothing worthy of commendation, while only 29 percent considered the legislative branch to be effective. More than half of the respondents said they were unlikely to vote. Parliament is a form of theater, and people know this. It cannot choose the government, cannot originate legislation, and although it can amend it, this power is meaningless since the senate can amend its amendments, and the king can also veto.

Jordan made significant changes to its electoral law in 2016, replacing a controversial one-person-one-vote system with a list-based system designed to encourage political parties. The new electoral law may help revive the political system. It requires voters to pick from among pre-set lists of candidates - a system that could encourage stronger organising between candidates on ideological or party-based grounds. As a result, key opposition groups that previously boycotted the election, including the Muslim Brotherhood, came back to electoral politics. It was a major development at a time when regional wars, an ever-growing refugee crisis and a struggling economy have all converged to threaten Jordan's stability. Of 1,293 candidates competing for 130 seats in Jordan's parliament, 82 percent were non-partisan. The Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist parties, while making a strong showing, were fractured into smaller groups.

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