Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jordan: Political Survival And Public Opinion

By Hassan A. Barari 

Amid the political tension that has been building in Jordan over the last few months, it seems that both government and Parliament are fighting for political survival. However, it looks like neither government nor Parliament can survive the coming weeks.

The casino affair has become a game changer in Jordan. Never before have we witnessed this kind of battle between Parliament and government over an issue.
There is consensus among observers that Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit was given a historic opportunity to form another government. No other prime minister over the last 12 years was given such an opportunity. Additionally, a current in Jordan argues that Bakhit can be different from the time of his first tenure, in 2005-2007. Yet, judging from the government’s inability to keep up with the recent political developments, one can say that he has not capitalised on this historic opportunity. Interestingly, Bakhit is paying a price for the mistakes made during his first time as prime minister, with no one talking about the mistakes of his current government.

At the time of writing this article, it was not clear whether the Parliament was going to hold Bakhit accountable for the casino fiasco, but the casino affair and Shahin issue have been crucial for the government. Put differently, the casino in particular, and the tug of war between Parliament and government over this issue has become an issue of public opinion.
The Parliament suffers from an image problem among the public. Many observers cast doubt on the way some members were elected and parliamentarians did themselves a disservice by allowing to be seen as another branch of the executive authority instead of acting as a mechanism for checks and balances.

If anything, the current Parliament is more interested in restoring some of its lost status among Jordanians. Therefore, it might attack Bakhit not because it really wants to hold him accountable but because it wants to appeal to the public. Based on this, I think the real battle is not under the Dome, but in the street. A majority of people will not accept anything short of holding big names accountable in the casino fiasco. Whoever fails to understand this logic will run the risk of losing ground in the coming days.
Even if the prime minister survives the Parliament test, it will be almost impossible for the government to survive the public test. We already witnessed the resumption of demonstrations and sit-ins, particularly in the south of the country; the demands of demonstrators have reached levels unknown before. The only body to blame for the change in their demands is the government. It has failed to send the message that it is genuinely willing to effect reform.

Now one should pay more attention to what is going on in the street than in Parliament, whose members already lost their public appeal.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 28/06/2011

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