Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour accused Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood of seeking to undermine the powers of King Abdullah II. On the eve of parliamentary elections slated for Jan. 23, Ensour acknowledged in an interview with Al-Hayat that the Jordanians were not satisfied with the performance of previous parliaments. He stressed that the previous elections’ mistakes, in reference to breaches that senior officials have acknowledged, will not happen this time. He revealed that the cabinet and the powerful general intelligence service, which has been accused of vote fraud, were given strict orders by the king to not interfere in the electoral process under any circumstance.
With regard to the reported preparations for establishing a confederation between the “new state” of Palestine and the Hashemite Kingdom, he said that such a proposal “will not be considered before the building of the Palestinian state has been completed.” He renewed his country’s non-interference in Syrian affairs and discussed Jordan’s “sovereign” decisions to refuse the entry of Palestinian refugees from Syria, calling such decisions to be a red line.
Following is the text of the interview:
Al-Hayat: Let us start the discussion about your preparations for the parliamentary elections. Have you completed the preparations?
Ensour: There are two types of preparations. We have completed the logistical preparations related to polling stations, public education, voting procedures and vote counting mechanisms. We have also completed the preparations related to how candidates and voters register, as well as what is permitted and forbidden during election day. Here, we should note the excellent role played by the independent body overseeing the elections. It performed its duty to the fullest and in a highly accurate and modern manner by making use of available technology. According to the recent constitutional amendments, the independent commission is responsible for all stages of the electoral process.
Al-Hayat: But what about the voters, and how are they preparing for the election?
Ensour: We do not deny that some Jordanian voters hold a negative view about previous parliaments, whose performance was not stellar. The previous parliament, and the one before it, failed to meet the citizens’ aspirations for change. Some Jordanians think that the next parliament will have the same composition and performance. But I think the opposite will happen, especially if the voting process goes well. We assert that we are firmly committed to holding a 100% fair and clean election. The government will not in any way do anything that would prejudice the election.
Al-Hayat: What about political money and how it is used during the election? Some officials in the Independent Commission have acknowledged that this phenomenon exists.
Ensour: Some citizens are complaining that political money is being used to buy people’s votes and, as you know, this is a serious crime that carries serious penalties. However, the burden of proof is on us. The courts ask for witnesses and evidence, which in many cases are not available. This is an issue for the courts, not the executive branch. We implement the laws and it is our duty to monitor such heinous acts. But no government in the world can prosecute political money if the citizens do not cooperate. However, we stress that this money is part of the corruption, which must be fought in a variety of ways.
Al-Hayat: But what do you say to charges made by the opposition, especially the Islamist opposition, that the security services are interfering in the electoral process and are pressuring candidates to withdraw from the race?
Ensour: Jordanian security services are part of the government and in no way do they interfere in the electoral process. As prime minister, I not only deny such charges but also refuse that the security agencies intervene. I believe that these rumors, which are perhaps being spread by one or more persons, are incorrect and are aimed only at disrupting the democratic process.
Al-Hayat: Let’s be more honest. What role will the intelligence services play on election day, especially when a former intelligence chief has explicitly acknowledged falsifying the 2007 elections?
Ensour: Jordanian intelligence are part of the government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is an agency that receives direct orders from the prime minister. If the intelligence services commit any mistake during election day, the prime minister will be held responsible. I assure you that the intelligence services and the government have received strict orders from the king to not interfere in the electoral process, be it direct or indirect. The mistakes that happened in the previous elections will not happen again.
Al-Hayat: Let’s talk about the relationship between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood. Is the back-and-forth between the two sides something healthy or evidence of a deep-seated crisis?
Ensour: The Islamic Action Front Party (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) is a respectable party. We respect its right to dissent. But that does not mean that their decisions are wise because they certainly are not heaven sent. For example, there is nothing democratic about boycotting the parliamentary elections. The Muslim Brotherhood’s logic is not sound. They want the majority to follow the minority and no country in the world follows that kind of logic.
Al-Hayat: Do you mean to say that the Muslim Brotherhood has lost as a result of it boycotting the elections?
Ensour: I think it was another mistake. It was not their first mistake in my opinion. But despite that, I understand the internal differences they are facing.
Al-Hayat: How will you deal with their Jan. 18 protest against holding the elections on time?
Ensour: If their protest is intended to disrupt the elections, this is unacceptable and constitutes a violation. But I think that the Muslim Brotherhood and those with them do not intend to break the law. Of course, we do not want them to deviate from Jordanian ethical practices.
Al-Hayat: Is your problem with the Brotherhood only about the election law, or are there other problems such as the powers of the palace?
Ensour: The palace in Jordan has no powers. The powers are only granted to his majesty the king. And the Brotherhood wants to trim them. You should ask them why. Let us assume that the king’s powers are granted to parliament. Would that solve the problem? Of course not. The Brotherhood do not consider the parliament trustworthy. How can you take powers away from the king and grant them to a parliament that you do not like? What is the benefit of the constitutional amendments that they are demanding?
Al-Hayat: So what’s the solution?
Ensour: The realistic solution is to strengthen democracy, that we participate in the elections, and that we promote partisan work. This would develop political life and allow parliament to form future governments. It also means that the king, who has powers, would not need to manage the details of political life again. But to reach that, including the formation of parliamentary governments, would require more than one election cycle so that the idea succeeds.
Al-Hayat: The intensity of the street protests has been rising and falling since Jan. 2011. There has been demands for various reforms. What do you think of the protests? And are they escalating or waning?
Ensour: I don’t want to say that they are waning because it might hurt the feelings of some. But I will say that the Jordanian government has not turned a deaf ear to the protesters’ demands. We have listened to them with respect. We have cooperated with every well-intentioned party with an idea. We have made several achievements including dissolving the previous parliament. We have amended a third of the constitution, thus strengthening the legislature’s role and weakening those of the executive and judicial branches. We have formed the Constitutional Court and the Independent Election Commission. The popular movement has demanded an end to corruption and you can see that many senior officials have been sent to court for corruption.
Al-Hayat: News has been leaked about the possibility of forming a confederation between the “new state” of Palestine and the Hashemite Kingdom. Is that true?
Ensour: I would like to officially announce on behalf of the Jordanian government that there will be no talk about federalism or confederation before the withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.
Al-Hayat: So the matter is debatable.
Ensour: Once the building of a Palestinian state is complete, and when it becomes independent and its territory liberated, then it is the right of the Jordanian and Palestinian peoples to negotiate their future. But we should not absolve Israel from the Palestinian cause, nor carry that cause on our shoulders alone.
Al-Hayat: What about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Jordan lately? How do you respond to the opposition’s accusations that by welcoming him you have given him a free electoral boost?
Ensour: I am not saying that the visit took place. But I wonder whether Netanyahu visiting Amman would change the convictions of Israeli voters and give him more votes. The opposition greatly oversimplifies things.
Al-Hayat: You are at the frontline of an open war on Syria. How will you deal with the fall of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime? What are the effects of the situation there on your country?
Ensour: We do not wish to analyze the developments with the current Syrian leadership and how they may affect Jordan. But the Hashemite Kingdom is ready for any surprises or developments. We want to protect our borders. Syria is a brotherly Arab country and we wish it stability first and foremost. Jordan has accepted tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. We hope the bloodshed ends as soon as possible, and we emphasize the need to resolve the Syrian conflict politically.
Al-Hayat: But why are you preventing the Palestinian refugees fleeing from Syria from entering the kingdom, while knowing that they have Syrian travel documents?
Ensour: There are those who want to exempt Israel from the repercussions of displacing the Palestinians from their homes. Jordan is not a place to solve Israel’s problems. Jordan has made a clear and explicit sovereign decision to not allow the crossing to Jordan by our Palestinian brothers who hold Syrian documents. Receiving those brothers is a red line because that would be a prelude to another wave of displacement, which is what the Israeli government wants. Our Palestinian brothers in Syria have the right to go back to their country of origin. They should stay in Syria until the end of the crisis.
Al-Hayat: How do you assess your relationship with Saudi Arabia, especially as it finally rushed a new financial grant to Jordan?
Ensour: Our brothers in Saudi Arabia care very much about us. They stand with us and support us all the time. We cannot deny that. We are constantly discussing the developments in the region. They are well aware of the seriousness of the situation around us. They know that our safety and security is common and mutual. We share a 770 km border.
Al-Hayat: It is said that your relationship with Qatar is a bit tense because of your position on the Syrian crisis and of your continued talk of a political solution.
Ensour: Our relations with Qatar are ordinary. They are neither positive nor negative. The last visits by the two countries’ leaders were good and we hope that the relationship continues.
Al-Hayat: One last question. As a former oppositionist and longtime deputy, did you lose popularity when you accepted the post of prime minister?
Ensour: (Laughing) I am now 70 years old. Of course I am not looking to advance myself. All I want is to satisfy my God, my country, and perform my duties in all integrity.