Jordan's King Criticizes 'Stagnant' Political Scene

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King Abdullah II of Jordan criticized the country’s political scene for being out of touch with the people, saying that parties do not take political elections seriously, and little gets done. Ibrahim Gharaybeh writes that political reform will only truly take hold when the middle class truly sees the political process as a vehicle that can affect change in their lives.

King Abdullah II of Jordan sharply criticized the country’s leaders and political elites for failing to create an active political scene, one which is based on three or four major political parties, attracts broad social bases and establishes a peaceful rotation of power according to the majority in parliament.

The reality is that the political scene is now characterized by a serious and extended political emptiness that includes political elites, businessmen, communities and individuals. Political parties, which number in the dozens, failed to attract supporters and members and to actively participate in parliamentary elections. Today the government is facing a significant reluctance on the part of voters to register for the upcoming parliamentary elections. This reluctance reflects both community and individual negativity toward elections and shows that they do not take them seriously.

Businessmen, company leaders and economic-facility chairmen are not clearly linked to political parties or to the political process in general. However, their hegemony over politics — including political and legislative decisions — is obvious.

While political and legislative issues were being discussed, debates regarding a fair tax system have been absent from demonstrations, seminars, political programs and legislative rhetoric. This reluctance to discuss tax legislation and justice — along with a failure to see their importance in the reform process — indicates that parties are ignoring the importance of the law and its link to the political and economic-reform process.

Instead of focusing on these issues, these groups have discussed other issues such as the landlord-tenant law. Failing to link tax reform to the reform process in general results in a significant lack of balance in the overall political-reform process. This basically means that organizing resources (collecting and spending) is done according to specific groups and interests and away from any political or social interaction. This then results in a series of imbalances and corruption, starting with a disregard for business and trade groups’ interests in the reform process, and followed by the building of alliances with executive and legislative authorities, instead of taking part in the political and legislative process.

This would certainly lead to an isolated, dominant elite, and would separate unions and social leaders from the reform process, since their interests and resources are dominated by the authorities and businessmen. Cultural processes would lose the support and funding they currently have, since those capable of funding them will no longer have any reason to do so, since they no longer need to establish alliances with communities and voters! Accordingly, communities would weaken and become marginalized, and their share in the reform process would be fully dependent on the authorities, rather than possessing their own resources and independent relations with the authorities and private companies.

It is clear that tax policies reflect the competitiveness and alliances of political and economic powers. The applicable temporary income-tax act was passed in a very short time as the former parliament was being dissolved. It is obvious that this act reflects the interests and wishes of banks, companies and businesses that, in addition to their economic and trade activities, are controlling the political process and have influence over executive and legislative authorities.

Politics cannot be meaningful and effective without the participation of the middle class in determining reform policies and priorities. The middle class, in its continuous quest to improve its standard of living and protect its interests, aspirations and goals that emerge from its professional and educational experience, always focuses on reforming the political process and improving performance and basic services. Furthermore, this should be accompanied by mechanisms and institutions that protect political reform. The reform process begins when the middle class sees that there is hope in achieving its goals through a political process. At this point, politicians, party leaders and candidates in parliamentary elections should develop a communication process and organize joint activities with various communities to reform their performance and enhance basic services. 

Why don’t political officials see a need to communicate and work with communities? The selecting of ministers, directors, ambassadors, government officials and leaders of public institutions is no longer based on political and social criteria. There is no need for a government official to be a social or political leader — not even a professional, technical or bureaucratic leader. Moreover, political, social, professional and scientific success are no longer key to political progress and political elites quickly became isolated and stagnant groups. When citizens learn that political progress is not based on professional success or community confidence, the political process becomes a beautiful endeavor.

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