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Jordan's King Abdullah Seeks Rapid Change From New Government Amid Protest
Past opportunities for change were missed because of “people with private agendas who resisted reform to guard their own interests,” the monarch told the heads and members of Jordan’s executive, legislative and judicial authorities yesterday, according to a transcript provided by the Royal Court. “I will not allow that to happen again.”
King Abdullah swore in Bakhit’s government on Feb. 9, replacing the previous administration headed by Samir Rifai. He was responding to protests by Islamic and other opposition groups that have been staged on Fridays since the revolt in Tunisia that forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile on Jan. 14. The unrest has also spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president after mass protests, and Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Algeria.
The demonstrators in Jordan, which imports more than 90 percent of its oil and relies on foreign investment and grants to finance its budget, have pointed to rising food prices and a lack of jobs, complaints that echo those of the opposition in Egypt and Tunisia. The protesters are also demanding that more powers be vested in the country’s elected parliament.
The Islamic Action Front, the largest opposition group in Jordan, declined to join Bakhit’s government.
“I want quick results,” Abdullah said, reiterating his instructions in the designation letter to the new premier. “When I talk about political reform, I want real reform consistent with the spirit of the age.”
The “most important step is to study and develop all laws governing political and civil activities,” as well as the kingdom’s election law, he said. “There should be consensus on this law and on its goals, which must encourage collective political work and the emergence of political parties as well as increasing public participation in decision making.”
Parliamentary elections should be carried out with parties competing on the basis of programs, the king said. “This is essential so we move to a new stage in the administration of the state when governments will be formed by parties and on the basis of the clear programs that these parties will present. To get to that stage, there should be strong and efficient political parties and continuous dialogue.”
Many of Jordan’s 30 to 40 tribes usually reach a consensus on candidates before legislative elections, with voters often following the instructions of their tribal elders rather than choosing on the basis of specific political and economic platforms.
Jordan held its last vote in November. Pro-government and tribal candidates swept the elections, as Islamists who form the largest opposition movement boycotted the vote saying the assembly lacks power, the voting system favors pro- administration candidates and past counts have been fraudulent. The government denied any interference in the election, which was monitored by international observers including the Washington-based National Democratic Institute.
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