Jordan's not so independent parliament
The independence of the three branches of the state is the bedrock of democracy. In Jordan, this independence, while guaranteed by the Constitution, one can still witness the inference of the executive branch.
Simply following the Parliament deliberations, which are being broadcast by a local NGO live on YouTube and by Radio Al Balad (ironically not on any of the many publicly owned TV and radio stations) demonstrates this problem.
Subcommittees’ amendments to the government-issued laws are routinely denied, making the process of turning draft laws to a subcommittee a farce and a waste of time and effort by individuals elected from the Parliament plenary itself.
The ineffectiveness of Parliament is reflected in the way members deal with one of its members who was elected on a national party list.
Rula Hroub, from the “Jordan is strong” party, is perhaps one of the most active members of Parliament. She has something smart to say at every session of Parliament. Her interventions are logical and her recommendations for text changes are practical, yet almost every single idea she presents in the House is voted down without any idea why.
Few argue convincingly against her ideas, yet when the speaker of the House calls for a vote, her suggestions repeatedly fail to get the needed votes. The situation has become so predictable that she started to begin her deliberations by saying: “I know this will not pass, but I need to say this for the record.”
Some argue that she and her two-person party must do more to lobby MPs for her ideas beforehand in order to succeed in getting the needed votes.
Whether lobbying would make a difference is debatable, but what is clear to all who follow the 17th Parliament deliberations is the strange decisions that are often taken and the sudden reversals that occur without any clarity or even attempt to set up such changes.
Perhaps the weirdest decision-making process was regarding the issue of the creation of the decentralisation council.
The government draft law called for 75 per cent of the members to be elected and the rest to be appointed by the executive branch.
A group of non-governmental organisations was formed last year with the expressed goal of working with members of Parliament to support a progressive decentralisation law. Every single MP was approached, invited to lunch, asked to attend public events in their communities with the goal of convincing them to vote for improving the draft law.
The idea was that elections should be the only way to choose members without appointments.
Another issue that was repeatedly discussed was the need to have a similar women’s quota in the decentralised councils, similar to the ones in municipalities or Parliament itself.
When the relevant clauses came up for a vote on Clause 17, the plenary indeed voted to scrap the idea of appointments and accepted that all council members will be elected.
Members of Parliament also agreed to a resolution presented by Jerash MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa to add 15 per cent members in the form of a women’s quota. Civil society celebrated this victory that was the result of months of lobbying efforts.
But the following day, after lunch and before closing the voting, the speaker suddenly asked members of Parliament to revote on Clause 17 again and before a count could be assessed, he declared that the changes had been voted down and that the draft government text for appointing 25 per cent of the members had been agreed to by the majority.
No discussion took place before that last-minute vote. No one explained to the members why they had to go back on a decision that was duly discussed within the committee and the plenary, and voted on freely.
Also, no one knows exactly who voted for it, since Parliamentarians rarely use the electronic voting system at their disposal.
The Parliament does not present the names of those who vote for or against any single resolution unless the vote is questioned by fellow members of Parliament.
Immediately after the vote, the decentralisation law was passed and the session was adjourned. The only obstacle that remains now is the senate, which is made up of former officials that are appointed by Royal Decree.
The last-minute change of the above vote has turned a victory of the people into a defeat and shows the fact that Parliament is not as independent as the Constitution has called for it to be.
Some would argue that a bad decentralisation law is better than no law and that once a better election law is passed Parliament will be more representative of the will of the people.
Until then, it is difficult to be too thrilled about the tiny reform steps taking place.