AMMAN, Jordan – Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Sunday called for “quick and real” political reforms to give the public a greater role in governing and to eliminate corruption, favoritism and nepotism.
The king’s comments are his first public remarks since anti-government protests - inspired by the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt - began in Jordan seven weeks ago. Activists are demanding a stronger role in politics and greater political freedoms.
Speaking to lawmakers, judges and Cabinet officials at his hilltop palace, Abdullah vowed to forge ahead with political reforms, saying such changes are “in the interest of our people.”
He called for a comprehensive review of all bills, especially a heavily disputed election law that the opposition claims favors the king’s Bedouin tribal loyalists at the expense of Islamists and other constituencies.
The election law, Abdullah said, must “increase people’s participation in making their future, so that competition in elections would be based on programs and to move into a new era in running the affairs of the state.”
“When we reach that period, we will be able to form governments on the basis of political party affiliation and clear work plans,” he added. He said he eventually wants to see effective political parties established and open competition for Cabinet posts.
But the king did not say whether he would relinquish the power to appoint prime ministers - a key demand of protesters who want the post to be popularly elected. Currently, parliament is elected, but the king retains the power to appoint and dismiss prime ministers and parliament and rule by decree.
Political analyst Oraib al-Rentawi called Abdullah’s proposals a “step in the right direction, but not enough.”
“We’ve been talking about this issue for 20 years. We need practical steps with set timetables to enable us to have an electedCabinet,” he added. He said above all a new election law must allow for adequate representation of all segments of Jordanian society.
“It’s only then that strong and effective political parties would emerge and would be able to form Cabinets,” he added.
There are 40 splintered political parties in Jordan, including Arab nationalists, communists, leftists and Muslim fundamentalists. But the only organized party is the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group in the country.
Elections are usually contested on the basis of family connections in this largely tribal society. Tribesmen form the bedrock of the king’s support.
Following violent riots calling for wider public freedoms in 1989, King Abdullah’s father, the late King Hussein, revived a multi-party system banned for 33 years and reinstated parliament after a 22-year gap.
Hussein also said he wanted to see political parties emerge into three main groups - right, center and left.
But little has been done since.
Abdullah did not comment on the protests that have roiled the kingdom, but he acknowledged that Jordan faces “enormous challenges,” including a swelling segment of the population mired in poverty.
He blamed slow reforms on past governments, saying they wasted time in “fear of change.”