Naseem Tarawnah

Dead Sea v Jordanian Parliament: Spot the Difference

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The state of Jordanian parliament today reminds me of the Dead Sea. It’s the lowest point on Earth, it’s a body of water where nothing can survive, and it continues to recede every year causing an increasingly dire situation. The events in parliament that have transpired in the past few days and weeks have come to demonstrate the degree to which our parliament has hit rock bottom.

In the past month alone, some of the highlights included the violent prone MP Yaya Saud, known for his repulsively belligerent ways that have included leading and directing mobs to attack protesters and critics of the state over the past year and a half – who recently attempted to attack a fellow member of parliament, Bassam Hadaddin. Speaker of the House Dughmi some how felt it was logical to use his podium as a platform to criticize Hadaddin who had published a column a day earlier criticizing the speaker’s totalitarian attitude.

According to the reports, Hadaddin was not allowed to defend his position with Dughmi telling him to basically sit down and shut up, while the latter essentially accused the man of being bitter for not receiving a requested financial perk. This caused Hadaddin to walk out along with other MPs. Eventually, Haddadin and Dughmi met behind closed doors, resolved their differences, and the microphone was turned over to the latter to make a statement, when Yahya Saud popped up and ripped out the microphone, hurling insults and attempting to attack Haddadin. It was a scene out of a WWE tournament. MP Jamil Nimri called the event an “indescribable…disaster”. I would call it, disgusting.

Perhaps my favorite part of the YouTube video is the last few seconds where someone tells the media “Don’t tape this”, and someone else says “tape it!”. It’s pretty demonstrative of the relationship between the media and the parliament. Rewind only a few days prior, MPs took turn chastising the media for being critical of their demands for lifetime diplomatic passports. The Jordan Press Association called their remarks “offensive”, and dubbed the lower house as being “politically bankrupt”. One would think MPs would have a greater respect for the media given that without their coverage they would be rendered more obsolete than they already are, to say nothing of their love for the cameras.

But the cherry on top has surely been this absurd battle between the Senate and the Lower House regarding the civil retirement law, with the latter body wanting an amendment that would guarantee them lifetime pensions. The Senate rejected the amendments, and the Lower House rejected their rejection, sending the law back and forth in a political ping pong session. In case any one has forgotten, these are MPs that were “elected” in Novemeber 2010, which makes them barely a year and a half old. And in case anyone has forgotten, the country is not only faced with unprecedented political turmoil in the region and at home, but it’s also in economic dire straits. While the people are demanding holding officials responsible for financial corruption, as well as solutions to the level of poverty and unemployment, this legislative body is asking that they receive lifetime salaries no matter how long they’ve served, and on the tax payer’s dime.

On Tuesday, as everyone knows by now, the Lower House “won” the battles, and I’m using air quotes here because the Senate also ended up voting in its favor during the joint session. MPs (and I believe Senators too) make about 3,000JDs a month, so for 180 members of parliament (both houses) that takes us to 6.48 million dinars a year. To say nothing of the next parliament. To say nothing of the rest of their lives.

With the exception of a few members, Parliament has officially lost its mind and, in my opinion, I think it’s time to seriously consider its dissolution. We have all gone along with the political theater that is this parliament, but right now this farce is not only set to cost us millions, but is too incompetent to tackle the reform issues in its hand. For it to continue is not only disgraceful, and not only destructive, it erodes what little confidence the Jordanian street has in the state’s genuineness regarding reform.

There are, of course, legal repercussions to such an action considering that the constitution has been amended and requires elections to be held within four months. The tight spot the country is currently in revolves around this reality as well as the fact that a new elections law is being submitted by the government for approval by the parliament. Suffice to say, given the state of our parliament, I no longer trust them to properly discuss their own lunch order, let alone amendments to our constitution, and an election law that will likely be the biggest defining factor for the reform process in the Kingdom. This issues is much too important and much too dangerous to put in the hands of parliament, who I’m sure would not be able to secure a vote of confidence from the people today.

The new elections law requires national consensus, and this cannot be facilitated by a politically (and now morally) bankrupt parliament. It requires a national discussion and a process whereby different parties have the opportunity to present alternatives, offer input, and then put it up for a national referendum, allowing the people to directly vote. The alternative is having this currently defunct parliament decide on behalf of the people of whom they are non-representative, which will likely result in another absurd election process, protests, rinse and repeat.

It is of utmost importance that the state get the elections process right. From the legislative process, to the monitoring of the elections, to the conduct of the elections themselves. It must be a process that is inclusive of the Jordanian population, which has a right to have a firsthand say in the country’s political destiny. And thus, it is a process that must exclude this parliament, given its nauseating state.

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