In the past few days, we have all been closely following the political turmoil in Egypt after the revolution in Tunisia and thinking about the consequences on Jordan. In a step that is consistent with the traditional crises management system in Jordan the previous government resigned and HM the King has entrusted Mr Ma’rouf Al Bakhit, a former Prime Minister between 2005-2007 to form the government that supposedly will respond to the society’s increasing demands for political and economic reforms.
The previous government headed by Samir Rifai was blamed for many political and economic faults by the new and traditional opposition, the media and the political elite. A major part of the criticism was justified, but also that government was harshly accredited with chronic economic problems that were the outcome of short-sighted policies driven by previous governments, especially between 2003-2009 including the increase of the public budget deficit from 200 Million JDs in 2004 to 1400 million JDs in 2009 due to extravagant public spending.
Samir Rifai was a suitable target for anger and frustration and the perfect political scapegoat. A descendent of a rich and elite family that does not have a wide social base, and a proponent of free market economy was often associated with the economic hardship facing the majority of Jordanians. New forms of opposition were created such as the daily workers’ association, the teachers’ mobilization and the activism of the retired military servicemen, who all provided a colorful wave of opposition, each dictated by different causes.
The common denominator is that the majority of Jordanians are becoming worried about the way the country is being governed. They believe that the majority of ministers and high ranking officials that have taken the decisions in the last few years were not closely linked to the ordinary people and were of a crop of elite businessmen turned politicians who would serve their own interests. This perception may be over-generalized but it does reflect a state of eroded trust between people and public institutions.
To diffuse the growing tensions, and to prevent the highly civilized and peaceful weekly demonstration from turning into an ugly confrontation with the state forces, the King has opted to change the government, after only 40 days of it gaining an unprecedented 111 out of 119 votes of confidence from the Parliament, which supposedly should present the aspirations of the Jordanian people.
This option was the most probable for the last few days and people were just thinking of the identity of the new Prime Minister. Many people though that it will be a new name with a robust political/economic knowledge or a veteran politician of the generation that at the top of the elite ranks in the 90s.
The selection of Mr Bakhit was not highly expected and may not thrill the opposition groups, but I personally see it as a justified move at this stage. Bakhit did serve as a Prime Minister but was the victim of the power struggle between the former head of the Royal Court and the former head of the Intelligence department. A ferocious power struggle that has involved politicians, media and the public opinion was too big for Bakhit to handle resulting in the establishment of many quasi-governmental institutions at one end, and the interference in the results of the municipal and parliamentary elections at the other.
Al Bakhit, if allowed to function properly, has developed a vision for reform in Jordan that includes the election of party-based governments. He presented his roadmap for reform in Jordan in a lecture conducted in December 2010. The timespan of his plan is 30 years, so he’d better accelerate this pace based on the current regional developments that warrant rapid and effective actions.
People in Jordan want genuine reform that includes more political freedoms, government accountability and better economic conditions. The King himself has always called for reform and on many occasions criticized the slow pace of action with the last note coming from his letter of designation to Mr Bakhit by saying “The drive towards reform has suffered from many shortcomings, which were the result of fear of change by some, who sought to safeguard their interests, and from reluctance to take decisions by many of those assigned responsibility, in addition to the appeasement policies which have worked to serve their private interests at the expense of the interests of the public”.
This is exactly what Jordan needs to continue avoiding political instability that is sweeping the region and to provide the leap of faith towards genuine reform. For Mr Bakhit the task is clear; it is time for delivery of political and economic reforms.
Having said all that, the major question is still unanswered: what are the required elements of the reform that Jordan needs? This will be the subject of some of the posts in the net two weeks.