Jordan’s parliament on Thursday approved government-backed constitutional reforms intended to revitalize the country’s stagnant political life, although some opposition deputies slammed the changes as incapable of strengthening democracy.
The changes were approved by a majority of 104-8 after a marathon debate over the measures, originally proposed by a royal committee appointed by King Abdullah, a close US ally and the ultimate decision maker in the country of 10 million.
Independent politicians say the reforms are an attempt by the authorities to restore public trust in the state and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
One of the most significant amendments paves the way for a prime minister to be chosen by the assembly’s largest single party, rather than one handpicked by the monarch, officials say.
The demand has been a leading plank of a reformist agenda favored by a mix of Islamist and tribal figures. Other changes give political parties a bigger role, allow wider representation of women and lower the age for elected deputies to 25 years.
“We are progressing in the plans to modernize the political system and pave the way towards party based governments,” Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh told the assembly.
The monarch launched the reform drive after a crisis shook the tribally based political establishment last April when former crown prince Hamza was accused of agitating against Abdullah, after he criticized the country’s leaders as corrupt.
The confrontation exposed fault-lines within the kingdom, which in recent years has witnessed civil unrest triggered by a worsening economy and demands for wider political freedoms and an end to rampant corruption.
Abdullah, who has ruled since 1990 and can dissolve parliament and appoint governments, has said in recent years he hoped one day to become a constitutional monarch.
Liberal politicians say the monarch has been forced to opt for timid steps toward democracy, constrained by a conservative bureaucracy and a tribal power base which sees reforms as a threat to political and economic benefits.
Some lawmakers in the assembly, which is dominated by pro-government deputies and seen by many as a rubber stamp legislature, said the changes violated the constitution and the country’s decades old parliamentary system.
“This is a coup against the (original) constitution and messing up with our parliamentary monarchical system and an encroachment on all powers,” Saleh al Armouti, who argued against the changes in the heated session.