Jordan: the Possibility of Transition from Electoral Rut to a “Constitutional Democratic Monarchy”

Article 1 of the Jordanian constitution states that the country’s governance system is a “Parliamentary Hereditary Monarchy”, meaning that Jordan is supposed to be a state with a constitutional democratic monarchy, similar to contemporary European monarchies such as Great Britain, Sweden, Spain and Belgium. The Jordanian constitution was modeled on the latter’s democratic constitutions, according to which authority rests in the hands of an elected government, while the monarchy serves as the symbolic figurehead of the country’s political and social system; in other words, the monarchy reigns but does not rule. Had Jordan succeeded in configuring itself according to the provisions of its own constitution it would have become a pioneering model of democracy in the Arab world. Most countries in this part of the world have adopted hereditary systems in the form of well-established old monarchies or have developed novel forms of the system (such as those Arab republics which are gradually shifting towards hereditary government). However, 18 years after the first Jordanian legislative elections were held in 1989 (following the lifting of the emergency rule imposed in the aftermath of the 1967 War and the occupation of the West Bank by Israel) “Jordanian democracy” is still illusive, let alone a model of good governance. Successive legislative elections have become an uninteresting routine, the political process is non-cumulative and its protagonists lack a shared long-term, and forward-looking national vision. The Jordanian-Palestinian mix, both demographically and politically, and the regional dimensions of Jordan’s situation, have scattered this vision even further. As for parliament, its role and status are being eroded by conservative, Islamist and partisan tribal and traditionalist elements, while the palace and royal court are pushing it in a liberal and modern direction. For its part, the government, positioned right in the middle between the the parliament and the monarchy, tries to reconcile its positions and close the gap between parliament’s conservatism and the palace’s modernity, tearing its performance apart in the process, and provoking a rapid succession of government reshuffles and changes. Jordan needs a “Project of State and Society”, far greater than the palace, parliament and the government, and able to steer these three institutions in a single direction. However, before there can be any talk about this “project”, we should take stock of the November 2007 election results, ponder them and draw one more lesson that can only confirm the fact that Jordan’s current path towards democracy needs a thorough dust-off, and a real shake-up.