Washington pushes for political reform in Jordan

Amman seeks to prevent any glitches with US President Joe Biden’s new administration.

A file picture of members of the Jordanian parliament meeting in session in Amman. (REUTERS)

A file picture of members of the Jordanian parliament meeting in session in Amman. (REUTERS)

AMMAN – As reflected by the activities of its ambassador to Jordan, Henry Wooster, the US is showing interest in Jordan’s political reform process. Observers believe that the US interest is a catalyst for Jordan, which seeks to avoid any glitches in its relations with the administration of incoming US President Joe Biden.

Wooster’s attention to political reform in the kingdom has caught the attention of Jordan watchers. It has been interpreted as reflecting US interest in expediting the reform process in the kingdom.

Wooster was not particularly active in the early part of his assignment during the last few weeks of former President Donald Trump’s term. Before that, the post had remained vacant for more than three years, with analysts speculating it had been put on hold until US elections.

When Biden’s new Democratic administration took over, the ambassador and his staff began to take initiatives and explore positions on the Jordanian political arena. In doing so, they seemed to be sending messages, including US concern with the government’s handling of the trade union issue, especially its decision to dissolve the Jordanian teachers’ union.

The US ambassador recently held several meetings and made a number of visits, most recently to the Jordanian house of representatives, where he met its speaker, Abdel Moneim Al-Awdat, and discussed several concerns, including the controversial electoral system currently in force.

Sources said the US ambassador was eager to explore how ready the kingdom was to move towards achieving reforms Jordan previously announced but has not implemented.

Washington considers Jordan a strategic partner in the region. However, it expresses reservations about some of its domestic policies.

Awdat said during his meeting with Wooster that Jordan was steadily proceeding with political reforms and revising all laws aimed at enhancing parliamentary and party performance. In essence, Jordanian officials are striving to reflect the determination of Jordanian King Abdullah II to draw up a plan for the next phase so as to ensure the participation of various groups in the decision-making process, he added.

Awdat went on to say that the house of representatives is keen to develop the work of parliamentary blocs and activate their role through clear programmes, pointing out that parliament is proceeding with reform that reflects the strength of its popular representation.

Analysts say that Washington considers Jordan an “indispensable strategic partner” in the region, but it has several reservations about domestic policies that have led to disinterest from politics, which is perceived by Washington as a systematic policy choice that that has to change.

They point out that the Jordanian government seems aware that it needs to put its house in order as the kingdom enters its second centenary. Amman has already begun to move forward in this regard, as recently illustrated by King Abdullah II’s decision to steer the intelligence services away from files unrelated to its functions and powers, such as issues related to investment and monitoring business enterprises.

In an interview a few weeks ago with the official Jordan News Agency, King Abdullah II stressed the importance of revising laws related to political life, such as laws on elections, parties and local administration, and highlighted the need to involve young people, the largest segment of Jordanian society, in public life.

“Given our concern for our heritage and our belief in the need for continued progress in promoting political participation of parties and young people in Parliament, we must reconsider laws governing political life, such as the Election Law, the Parties Act and the Local Administration Act,” the Jordanian king said during the interview.

Last November’s legislative elections revealed some of the deficiencies in Jordan’s electoral law, which advantages the role of tribal clans at the expense of the other segments of society. This has given birth to a clan-based parliament, while the presence of parties and political forces is simply pro-forma, despite their high level of engagement.

Following the parties’ poor outcome, voices arose calling for political reform in the kingdom starting with changes to the electoral law, which not only enhances the clan factor but tends to advantage individuals reforms rather than comprehensive visions or programmes.

According to analysts, King Abdullah II ‘s speech reflects his awareness of the need to reform and restore the country’s stagnant political life. This might not be easy, however, as authorities have a stake in preserving the status quo and trying hard to resist any reform that could threaten its interests.

They say that the US administration’s interest in political reform would be an additional catalyst to pay more attention to the issue, especially as Amman does not want any glitches to mar ties with the Democratic administration, which it considers to be an ally unlike the previous one.

The United States is one of Jordan’s leading financial supporters. A report by the US Congressional Research Service this month said Amman will receive $1.3 billion in aid from the United States this year.

The US State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) budgets for the year 2021 have allocated $760.8 million in economic aid to Jordan and $500 million in military aid, on top of other forms of aid for training and counterterrorism. According to the Jordanian foreign ministry, US assistance to Jordan this year aims to advance “the government’s economic reform agenda and (mitigate) the effects of regional crises, including the influx of refugees from neighbouring countries.”

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