Towards a Jordanian Democratic Model: How to make sure we are on the right path?

By: Hussein Al Majali and Dr. Mohammad Abu Rumman
Translated by Lena Al Aloul

How to make sure we are on the right path was not a question raised by politicians or citizens. Rather, it is a question that His Majesty the King himself put forward nine years ago in his first discussion paper, which has been followed by six other papers, five of which were devoted to discussing in detail the King’s vision for developing a Jordanian democratic model. 
Today, it is necessary to review these papers once again, as an important reference that goes beyond defining the requirements to achieve democracy, in presenting a deep understanding of the conditions, challenges, obstacles, and foundations that are necessary to bear in mind, during our “Journey to democracy” as mentioned by the King himself.

The renewal of national debate about the King’s papers is prompted, by His Majesty’s calls (in his interview with Petra News Agency at the end of January 2021) for revisiting the laws regulating political life (the election, political parties, and local administration laws).
This debate accelerated after the King’s letter to the Director of the General Intelligence Department. The letter clearly emphasized expediting the ongoing process of the development and modernization of the apparatus and demarcating the boundaries of its role, in parallel with ongoing efforts to restructure the governmental institutions, to ensure they can carry out their responsibilities in an efficient, impartial, and professional manner.

These royal steps came in the context of the Kingdom’s centennial celebrations. The King builds on this historical event to accomplish two major tasks: First, to take stock of the different lessons from history and build on the achievements, by identifying failures and transformations that hindered the modernization of the state and its institutions, and Jordan’s democratic path. Second, to build the new centenary’s narrative and redraw the goals, values and foundations that will govern the state’s methodology in the next phase and present a clear road map towards reaching what we want, and how do we achieve it through a calm, gradual and consensual path.

From tactical to strategic

As soon as the King directed the government to determine the needed steps to review political legislation, several voices started questioning the government’s seriousness in pursuing this path and referring to the previous discussions and papers presented by committees as reform prescriptions (case in point: the National Agenda Committee and the National Dialogue Committee). While such arguments by the political elites have their justifications in terms of results on the ground, it is necessary, however, to consider the factors, conditions and dynamics that led to this situation. 
Major political trends are likewise concerned about the timing the debate about political reform, and vested interests and agendas. Thus, we find ourselves faced on each occasion when the King pushes forward to undertake deliberate and systematic steps in developing the democratic path with a state of internal polarization, debating the intentions of such calls.

It is imperative, prior to initiating the discussion about the details of the election, political parties, and local administration laws, or before starting a long internal debate among the elites, to agree, primarily, on the strategic and major issues we are facing and to prioritize our national values by asking the following questions: What do we want to achieve? How do we achieve it? What are the review mechanisms? How do we make sure we are on the right path?

The path to parliamentary governments

The King laid down in his discussion papers a summary of his vision for the envisaged Jordanian Hashemite parliamentary constitutional monarchy. He never avoided addressing controversial issues; rather he set the parameters of the road map and demonstrated the foundations, constituents, obstacles, and challenges.

Regarding the ultimate goal, the King has clarified the requirements for reaching Jordan’s democratic model, and the requirements to develop mechanisms of forming parliamentary governments that represent political parties, and to entrench the principle of separation of powers, accountability, and transparency, while expanding the effective public participation in the political system.
The King has further defined, in his third discussion paper: “Each Playing Our Part in a New Democracy”, the key roles of political parties, the government, parliament, the King, and the citizens, and he outlined the main responsibilities for all parties -including those of the Monarch- to assume, and how to fulfill these obligations.

Herein lies the point: developing the desired model requires, above all – as the King mentioned in the first paper – a national consensus on the path, steps and the fundamental values; such as pluralism, moderation, tolerance, respect for the other opinions and a balance between the rule of the majority and protecting the rights of the minority, to avoid slipping to a state of polarization that stokes concerns of some social groups against others and weakens national identity and social cohesion, as had occurred in other countries. 
The responsibility for achieving this goes beyond the official side to the other parties in the political sphere. Achieving a representative government formed through the mechanisms of parliamentary life, parties and coalitions, requires the development of partisan work, and the existence of national and programmatic political parties that accommodate the younger generation and have realistic visions and programs that proceed from the supreme national interests. This is also linked to the development of a modern electoral system that enhances the role of parties and their participation in the political life. 
Another issue for the parties today to review, is their realities, programs, and their ability to compete fairly with other parties, and convince the people, especially the younger generation, that they are indeed capable, if they reach the Parliament, to form a government, which can present political, economic, and societal programs that answer the currently raised questions. 
The completion of this democratic transition requires a parallel path, through reforming and modernizing the government institutions, and transforming – as the King mentioned – the concept of a “Technocratic Minister” to a “Political Minister”.

This requires having an efficient ministerial apparatus that is professional and neutral, and able to provide the minister with everything needed to take informed decisions, and act as a reservoir for the state’s memory, as this will create healthy dynamics that allow forming governments with a partisan and political character.

Equally needed is the advancement of the parliament’s functions and its internal system, in a way that enhances the power of party’s blocs and their ability to carry out the expected tasks, and to fulfill the constitutional roles of legislation and oversight, which is relevant to the parties’ ability to compete in elections and become part of the parliament.

This requires instilling and strengthening democratic values and culture in various formal and informal institutions, and strengthening civil society, as the King referred to, in more than one paper, besides to his reference to the importance of fortifying the cultural infrastructure by advancing democratic principles among the new generations. The King mentioned, for example, launching “The Democratic Empowerment Program”, through the King Abdullah Fund, and currently the “I Participate” Program, through the Crown Prince Foundation. Both have graduated tens of thousands of Jordanian youth who are now equipped with modern ideas on democracy, pluralism, alternation of power, respecting the other people opinions, advocacy and political campaigning, all of which are important tools to reach a society that celebrates active citizenship and adopts democratic and pluralistic culture.

The Current Opportunity … is not to buy time!

Once again, the question is legitimate, and the answer is related to the discussion papers, the King wrote five years ago, as each paper came to be cumulative, affirming the previous papers, and backed by an in-depth analysis of the Jordanian political reality and the conditions, capabilities and mechanisms required to attain our goals. Therefore, the King is genuinely convinced of what he wants to achieve in the future, and that he sees today the right time to take big steps, especially at a time that Jordan is celebrating the centenary of its establishment, and without the presence of internal or external political challenges that might disperse reform efforts or create a state of disarray among the political forces and the state’s institutions.
Accordingly, it is necessary now to move to a practical question beneficial to all: How do we translate this conviction on the ground through a consensual, gradual, national and patriotic path?

Everyone has a responsibility.

The state institutions must realize the conviction of the King and his vision for the advancement of the Monarchical, Democratic system in Jordan, and must move forward to achieve this vision and pave the path to remove any remaining obstacles and not fear the outcomes of democratic reform. It is necessary for all to understand, that the main task in our new centenary is to transfer the Jordanian political system towards a progressive democratic model. Such a model embraces all citizens, bridges the growing gaps between governments and the people, increases citizens’ participation in the political life, and integrates the younger generation in public work that generates new leaderships in the political arena.
The State institutions must recognize that the actual fear should not be coming from the consolidation of democracy, but from the absence of a strategic vision while politics is shaped with the mindset of crisis management. 
This is particularly crucial as we are dealing with a new generation that has its pains, hopes, fears and aspirations, and lives in a state of intense tension, feeling marginalized in public life. It is necessary to open doors for those who wish to take part in the development of the political life in Jordan, and under the umbrella of constitutional monarchy, rule of law, and uniting national values.

It is necessary today – as well – to remove the obstacles to integrating young people in public work, in universities, parties and civil society, and to send successive messages conveying the seriousness of the state to achieve the desired democratic reform.

Political parties need to move to a new stage and to invest in the coming months in revisiting their rhetoric and ability to attract the younger generation and integrate it into the public life. Moreover, they need to present realistic and effective programs and not only slogans to empower young leaders to lead their parties in the future. It is necessary to overcome the current state of fragmentation and reach unity in clear political and organizational frameworks, because the current partisan situation will help no one to move forward in political action. The success of the democratic transition requires political and partisan pluralism.

The Parliament is obligated to perfect its political traditions and practices, referred to in the discussion papers, by emphasizing on collective action, and not on individual work, and by dedicating parliamentary blocs as main units in the parliament’s work, and by developing tools and mechanisms that fortify the legislative and oversight role. This includes what the King has stressed on, in his discussion papers regarding the relationship between the executive and the legislative authorities, and the framework of such relationship, as he also underlined the establishment of the Center for Studies within the parliament, to provide members of parliament with up-to-date data, information, and accurate research.

The role of oversight institutions is crucial in our journey to democracy, and civil society and a key pillar in the democratic transformation. The National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) has to strengthen its role in public freedoms and human rights, as well as the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and other institutions and to empower women, youth, and media in political life. 

The current government, parliament, and the civil society are facing a major task, as the ball is in their court now. They need to build a gradual and timely roadmap for national consensus with political parties, national forces, and youth leaders, to agree on the planned goals, phases, and methods to achieve such plans, and most importantly, to present these plans to the public in the form of a clear national program that consecrates the Jordanian democratic model.

The Conclusion,

We are condemned to hope! As the late Syrian writer Saadallah Wannous says, and we hope that this historical moment – considering the celebration of Jordan’s centenary- will be the right opportunity for everyone to seize and move towards a new phase in our journey to democracy and modernization.

Today, we need to continue developing the Jordanian political system and to establish a national democratic model that strengthens politics and presents a clear project for the new generation to engage actively in the public sphere. A model that restores social trust, and strengthens the pillars of the unifying, collective national identity. Surely, we can achieve this, by establishing a participatory public sphere that encompasses all, and consecrates the concepts of citizenship and the rule of law and strengthens our approach towards a national partnership and participation in designing the future and demarcating our national goals.

There is a trust gap, which we do not deny, that grew over the past years, and there are various concerns and conflicting lines in the political vision among the political elites. Today we must put things in perspective, and define many concepts to overcome the danger of falling into doubt or submission. This is a call to all sincere people to accomplish this mission.

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