Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Jordan braces for elections

Jordan's newly appointed Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour failed to reach reconciliation with the Islamic Action Front, says Khetam Malkawi

Some analysts criticise the prime minister for adopting contradictory stances. Abdullah Ensour, who was a member of the recently dissolved lower house of parliament, opposed the current one-person, one-vote elections law and the press and publications law when they were deliberated under the dome. As premier, he tried to convince the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition parties to participate in the parliamentary elections, slated in January next year, based on that same piece of legislation he was critical of.

Appointed on 10 October to succeed Fayez Tarawneh, Ensour, the fifth Jordanian PM in less than two years, tried to keep channels of communication open with the Islamists. He failed, mainly because his promises centred only around the nature of elections, which he promised to be fair and transparent. "Our demands are clear and we will not take part in the elections unless the law is amended," Hamzah Mansour, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) secretary-general, told Al-Ahram Weekly. With this statement, Mansour closed the door to any further discussion with the government, which insists on holding the elections under the one-person, one-vote system.

Ensour also promised to keep the newly amended Press and Publications Law, which he also opposed when he was a parliamentarian.

"A man of contradictions," said Mansour, who noted that when Ensour was appointed, the Islamists expected that discussions between "us and the government" to lead to a change of the electoral system.

Political analyst and columnist Fahed Khitan also criticised Ensour for becoming the premier who will implement the policies he was opposing as a deputy. Yet, Khitan commended him for his decent personality and transparency. "His name [Ensour] popped up the least in conversations and speculations about the new government, as he was one of the fiercest opponents to the previous four governments," Khitan said in an article published in Al-Ghad daily.

Although Ensour has more political opponents than friends, they "all respect his personality and his abilities", said Khitan. Khitan added that the new PM will have no option but to continue the policies adopted by previous governments and supervise the elections as stated in the king's letter of designation, which outlined the new government's mission, and stressed that it should lend support to the Independent Elections Commission's drive to ensure free and fair elections.

"In the political arena, the top priority for your government is to boost cooperation with the Independent Elections Commission and support it as the body administering and overseeing the early elections," King Abdullah said. The king said the new government's mandate will include keeping channels of dialogue open with all segments of society to encourage all political forces to participate in elections, and that the new government should continue to urge all political actors to adopt feasible agendas that meet the voters' aspirations.

Based on this letter of designation, Ensour initiated the dialogue with the Islamists, proposing to postpone the period of registration for elections, despite the fact that he is not authorised to make such move, which falls under the mandate of the Independent Elections Commission.

15 October was the last day to register for the elections. The IAF was the first to announce it will boycott the elections; it also said it will go back to the streets to demand political reforms. "We will keep asking for reform and will use all available means," Mansour stressed.

Political analyst Mohamed Abu Rumman agreed that the Islamists will ask for reform by resorting to demonstrations, yet he acknowledged that they will not have a high number of supporters, as is the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria.

What will help the Islamists, however, are the economic difficulties in the country, said Abu Rumman, adding that the government will find itself forced to lift subsidies to reduce the country's budget deficit.

Jordan's budget deficit for the current year is forecast to reach $1.7 billion.

The Islamists will succeed in attracting more supporters if the government lifts subsidies, which is bound to anger Jordanians, said Abu Rumman in one of his articles.

In his letter of designation, the king said the government should "exhibit the maximum degree of financial discipline", work on directing subsidies to those who deserve them and remove obstacles facing investors. "I also direct you to ensure that the medium-term budget takes into consideration the requirements of the economic-fiscal reform programme prepared by the outgoing government, with the support and approval of international financial institutions," the Monarch also said.

The coming four months before elections take place will prove the government's success or failure to absorb the anger of the Islamists and prevent public anger vis--vis its economic policies.

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