This January, a new set of constitutional amendments quickly passed through the Jordanian upper and lower house. It increases concerns on the future of the Jordanian democracy, as power is increasingly centered in the hands of the monarchy. King Abdullah, in rule since 1999, has said that he wants to become a ‘constitutional monarch’ and that he wants Jordan to be a parliamentary democracy in ten years. However, the recent amendments seem to point in the opposing direction.
What is amended?
Among the changes is the formation of a new governmental body, the National Security Council. It contains the prime, foreign and interior ministers, the heads of the King’s security apparatus and others, appointed by the king. It holds wide-ranging powers and is described as ‘a fourth branch of government’ which can bypass the Council of Ministers or parliament.
Even more controversial is that King Abdullah receives the power to bypass the Council of Ministers in the appointment of powerful political appointments, such as the Chief Justice or Grand Mufti. King Abdullah already has an extensive set of powers in the Jordanian political landscape. These amendments clearly are a setback in creating a system of checks and balances, a feature needed for a well-functioning Jordanian democracy.
On the other hand, the constitution now gives more support for people prosecuted for party membership. In Jordan, most parliamentarians run on family or tribal platform. It is a long-standing desire in Jordan that political parties gain the possibility to form a majority government, with the goal of re-invigorating political trust and legitimacy. In the last legislative elections, only thirty percent of Jordanians casted their vote. The apathy in the country towards its political institution is high.
Enduring economic difficulties and repression
Since Jordan changed from a rentier economy towards a privatization-focused model, economic problems started compiling in the kingdom. Especially during the covid-19 pandemic, public debt skyrocketed. Worries now are also high that Jordan is unable to import wheat due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
For many Jordanians, economic hardship has increased in the last decade. Unemployment currently stands at 25% of the population. It is combined with the increasing repression, as tens of thousands of people are still in ‘extrajudicial detention’. Under these laws, authorities can detain anyone who is deemed to be a threat to public security. Also under cybercrime laws, many have been detained over what they expressed on social media.
Concerns over women’s rights
Next to the socio-political troubles regarding the constitutional amendments, heavy discussion has arisen over the wording of women’s rights in the constitution. During a parliament hearing last February over de new constitution, a fistfight even erupted over it, after which several MPs were suspended. In the amendment, ‘women’ is added to the constitution’s second chapter: “Rights and duties of Jordanian men and Jordanian women”. This symbolic gesture is not legally binding and therefore far from enough. Despite continuous demands, article 6, which bans discrimination, still excludes gender-based forms of it. In Jordan, the push for more women’s rights is heavily politicized and many have linked its campaign with sentiments of anti-Islam and anti-national identity. The new constitutional reforms call for more participation of youth and women, but still lack the tools do reach so. Current legislative amendments towards improving women’s rights are still far from enough in reaching the goals of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the kingdom in 1992.
In the 2011 Arab Spring, Jordanian protesters expressed their desire for the country to become a parliamentary democracy. In 2011, 2016 and 2020, Jordan already saw various amendments to their constitution. As it currently stands, the current constitutional reform seems far from enough to improve political participation and legitimacy in the Jordanian political institution. Politics need to be closer to the Jordanian people, not further. Current reform leaves even more power in the hands of the King and his various councils. Women’s rights are still far from sufficient. A parliamentary democracy in ten years? Freedom House recently demoted Jordan from a ‘partly free’ to ‘not free’. It thus still has a long way to go.