Posted by Rafiq A. Tschannen
Following is the unofficial translation of His Majesty King Abdullah’s interview with the London-based Al Hayat newspaper published on Wednesday:
Question: In an interview, you said that you had been waiting for the Arab Spring for 10 years. Have you benefited from the Spring?
Answer: Since the start of the Arab Spring, I have had open and public stands. What I meant, more specifically, was that the Arab Spring had an impact on the pace of all aspects of reform in Jordan; add to that the general climate in our region, which constituted another catalyst for development and modernisation. The pace of reforms in the last decade in Jordan has often been described as progressive, but “two steps forward, one step backward”. The reasons are many and complicated, including the existence of certain powers that deem reform a threat to their interests. Other reasons included lack of a clear agenda and scale of priorities pertaining to reform or consensus over it, in addition to other factors and the regional developments that we all know. The situation today, mostly due to the Arab Spring, is better in Jordan in terms of clarity on the reform agenda and priorities, in addition to a general conviction among large segments of the population that reform is essential and inevitable. I am with my people, on the same boat when it comes to the belief that comprehensive reform is our ultimate goal, which we shall not give up. God willing, we will achieve our goals.
Q: Has Jordan overcome the risk of chaos contagion?
A: As you know, Jordan has been living in a turbulent region since its establishment. We are accustomed to facing difficulties and challenges. We have been there on many occasions and I am fully confident that Jordanians are aware and enlightened enough to realise what stability and security mean to their future and the future of their children. This is the basic premise we uphold to protect our country and preserve its achievements and assets. Our people have demands, which will not be met through slogans only, but through actual participation and engagement in the political reform process. This is the goal of the entire reform drive: to enable each citizen to participate in decision making and building the future.
We have frequently warned against the region sliding into more violence and tension as a result of the absence of justice and development opportunities. Back to your question, there is no country or society that is immune against the danger of chaos. But thank God, chaos has never been part of Jordan’s approach to address challenges and difficult circumstances. We can build immunity against chaos and its repercussions through maintaining a solid internal front and political stability, which has given Jordan an edge and has been a top national priority under the difficult regional circumstances and fragile stability in the area. In such a situation, the cohesion of the internal front hinges on our ability to go ahead with the comprehensive reform process in all its political, economic and social dimensions, which ensures all Jordanians a better future and leads to the modern state they aspire to, setting a regional model.
Q: What are the limits of political reforms in Jordan?
A: Honestly, I have a problem with such wording, especially the term “limits of reforms”. It suggests that the logic governing reforms is a process of orchestrating compromises, distributing power in accordance with a set quota and that some reforms are off-limits. The essential premise in such logic is that the reform and democratic transformation process are neither natural nor genuine.
Having said that, allow me to assert that I personally believe in reform as an approach and a way of life. The reform process in Jordan is not restricted and has no ceiling. The logic governing reform in Jordan is that there should be home-grown and evolutionary transformation that stems from conviction and trust. This will lead to a political matrix that represents the will and the aspirations of the people and ensures a balance between fast-paced consensual reforms and understanding of the demands of the various groups on the one hand, and the need to preserve stability and avoid jumping into the abyss, on the other. To be achieved, such balance requires an open reform workshop. We have gone a long way so far, starting with the constitutional amendments, which yielded historic changes like the establishment of the Independent Elections Commission and the enactment of laws on the Constitutional Court and Political Parties, while work is under way to come up with an elections law that ensures the highest degree of fair representation, under which national polls will be held before the end of this year in all transparency, neutrality and fairness.
Let me cite this example to illustrate that we reject any pre-set limits to our reform process. At the beginning of the Arab Spring — and our Jordanian Spring, which will keep blossoming, God willing — there was talk about constitutional amendments, with demands to go back to the 1952 version. If the process of reform were governed by the “logic of limits”, quoting your term, it would have sufficed to us to go back to the 1952 Constitution. But I firmly insisted that the review of the Constitution be comprehensive and lead us to a more progressive version than what the public demanded at the time. This resulted in changes to 42 articles of the Constitution. Thanks to the new version, we now have in place a matrix of institutions and constitutional principles that guarantee reforms and democratisation, foremost of which are the Constitutional Court, the Independent Elections Commission, enhanced freedoms, consolidated separation of powers, especially between the executive and legislative branches, as in restrictions to the dissolution of Parliament and the issuance of temporary laws, so that no branch of government would encroach on the other. We have asserted on more than one occasion that such constitutional amendments are only the beginning and that the political environment has now become open to reform, modernisation and positive change, consistently and decisively. This proves that we are not after putting limits and that this is not part of our way of thinking. To make a long story short, let me assert that there is one constant in the reform process in Jordan: maintaining Jordan’s success story as a regional model of genuine democratic transformation.
Q: Some are demanding a constitutional monarchy. How do you respond to that?
A: I tell them simply and clearly that anyone who is familiar with the Jordanian Constitution knows that the system of government in Jordan is parliamentary with a hereditary monarchy. Our constitutional experience is decades old in a state of institutions that have been in existence for more than 90 years. Those who look at Jordan’s reform map would realise the volume of our achievements.
I refer here to a set of checks-and-balances as a result of the recent political reforms, which I just described. The powers to dissolve Parliament, postpone the convening of its sessions, and issue temporary laws have been strictly limited. So that no one thinks I am evading the question, I tell those who by constitutional monarchy mean the mechanism of forming governments that I have spoken about representative parliamentary government on more than one occasion since assuming my constitutional authorities. You will find that I have repeatedly stated my conviction regarding the need to work towards parliamentary governments. I have also emphasised that, after the coming elections, the majority blocs or coalitions in the new Lower House will have key input in the selection of the prime minister and forming governments that win the confidence of the elected House. Developing this approach on parliamentary governments hinges essentially on Jordan’s ability to establish a mature political party system. This requires political parties and parliamentary blocs that represent the majority of citizens and a partisan culture in which political parties are the main channel through which people can express themselves politically, economically and socially.
SOURCE: JORDAN TIMES