ordan’s 2016 constitutional amendments: A return to absolute
By Sufian Obeidat, 27 May 2016
Jordan's King Abdullah shakes hands as he arrives for the opening of the third ordinary session of the 17th parliament (photo credit:
This article is also available in Arabic
The recent Jordanian constitutional amendments further concentrated power in a King who is neither legally nor politically accountable.
Despite their enormous implications to the system of government, the amendments were adopted without meaningful parliamentary debate
and without even nominal public engagement – writes Sufian Obeidat.
On 4 May 2016, King Abdullah II of Jordan issued a decree ratifying amendments to the Jordanian Constitution. Over a period of seventeen
days, with a short paragraph of legislative intent, and without any public involvement, the King and the National Assembly – composed of the
Chamber of Deputies and the Senate - replaced the parliamentary system of government with a presidential monarchy - a hybrid of
presidential and monarchic systems. The cabinet endorsed the draft amendments and submitted it to the Chamber, which adopted it in two
days, while it took the Senate one session to approve it. Both houses of the National Assembly approved the amendments with a sweeping
majority. Within two days, the King signed the decree issuing the new amendments.
Although the Constitution establishes a parliamentary system of government with a hereditary monarchy, in practice, the King has had the
final say in government, while the cabinet has borne the political and legal responsibility on his behalf. Since the 1950s, the Constitution has
undergone several amendments, mostly giving the King additional authorities at the expense of parliament. Once again, the King has
expanded his powers, this time at the expense of the Council of Ministers.
The King in the Constitution
The powers of the King as described in the Constitution show the King as a constitutional monarch. In a parliamentary system of government
with a hereditary monarchy, the King is the head of state and is immune from all liability and responsibility. As the King can do no wrong because he reigns but does not rule, his written and verbal orders do not relieve ministers from responsibility. He (accession the throne is
restricted to males) exercises executive power through his ministers and through royal decrees. Under the Constitution, the King exercises
the powers vested in him by Royal Decree, which must be countersigned by the prime minister and the minister or ministers concerned.
Unlike most monarchies in Western Europe, the Jordanian King decides on extensive issues with final authority and without the need to
follow the advice of the government. Among others, he appoints and dismisses the prime minister and the ministers or accepts their
resignations, issues orders for holding parliamentarian elections, and appoints the speaker and other members of the Senate. The King also
convenes, adjourns, or prorogues the National Assembly, may dissolve the Chamber or the Senate, and can relieve any senator of his/her
membership in the Senate. The King’s powers also include ratifying laws and constitutional amendments upon their adoption by the National
Assembly. He is the supreme commander of the army. The King has the right to grant a special pardon, commute any sentence and confirm
a death sentence.
With all such prerogatives, the Constitution entrusts the Council of Ministers with the responsibility of administering all internal and external
affairs of the state with a collective accountability to the Chamber for the public policy of the state and for the affairs of the ministries.
The King in practice
The first and last parliamentary Jordanian cabinet formed by, and responsible to, political processes existed sixty years ago. The late King
Hussein asked the leader of the party who won the majority of votes in the 1956 elections to form a cabinet. The majority leader constituted a
coalition cabinet, which included representatives of most of the then political parties. The new cabinet did not last more than six months: the
King dismissed the cabinet, put under house arrest the sacked prime minister, declared martial law, and dissolved and banned all political
parties, which continued until the early 1990s. Since then, no elections took place on a party basis, and consequently, no cabinet was formed
on that basis.
Since 1957, the King ordered the holding of elections and dissolved the Chamber at his sole discretion. Despite the fact that ministers were
subject to legislative accountability by means of vote of no confidence and questioning of the Chamber, the King appointed and dismissed
cabinets at his own discretion and without the need to provide any justification.
Typically, the King selects prime ministers among an inner circle of trusted men who served in civil and military positions. To avoid public
blame, the King generally selected strong and loyal men to occupy the office of the prime minister and granted them a substantial margin of
power, which gave them considerable political and social weight even after they have left the office.
At the beginning of his tenure in 1999, King Abdullah II selected an experienced strong former minister as his first prime minister who did not
last in office for long. Subsequently, the King selected less capable persons as prime ministers and abruptly sacked them. The King
depended heavily on the head of the Intelligence Department, who became the most powerful person in the country.
The King also selects and dismisses army commanders and heads of intelligence who usually rise from within the institution. Despite the fact
that the law provides that both institutions report to the minister of defense and the prime minister, they reportdirectly to the King. Senators
are selected among those who usually keep in with the mainstream. The results of the continual rigging of parliamentary elections
unmistakably demonstrate in the quality of “elected” deputies. Being the most influential and powerful apparatus in the country, the people