generally blame the Intelligence Department for elections fraud. Thus, the Jordanian system of government is a hybrid political system
combining a powerful King with an incapacitated legislature and a cabinet bearing the political and legal responsibility on the King’s behalf.
The 2016 Amendments: Formalizing the absolute monarchy
Fundamentally, the latest constitutional amendments have formalized the dominant powers of the King in practice. With no stated legislative
intent, the amendments also included provisions allowing dual nationals to run for parliamentarian elections, or to be appointed as senators
and ministers. Opposition to the amendment focuses on questions of loyalty of a dual national in a public office. Proponents argued that
depriving dual nationals from assuming public posts discriminates against them, and deprives the country of their talents. The question that
remains unanswered is why this part of the amendments was introduced at this time. Upcoming appointments to public posts might shed
more light on the underlying reasons. The amendments also extended the term of the Speaker of the Chamber from one year to two years.
The most important amendments relate to the mode of exercising royal executive powers. The constitution was revised to give the King the
sole power, without any countersignature by the prime minister or ministers concerned, to appoint the Crown Prince, the Regent, Senate
Speaker and members, Chairman and members of the Constitutional Court, the Chief Justice, the commander of the army, and the heads of
Intelligence and the Gendarmerie.
The stated legislative intent for the amendments was to consolidate the separation of powers, to enhance the independence of the
Constitutional Court and the judiciary, and to strengthen the neutrality of the Gendarmerie and prevent it from influencing, or to be influenced
by, politics. The official discourse added that the amendments are a step towards a parliamentary government where the political party with
the highest representation in parliament will select the prime minister. The idea is that the King is withdrawing important appointment powers
from parliament and the executive before he fully allows elected representatives to select the head of government.
Nevertheless, it is not clear how concentrating power in the hands of an unaccountable King could consolidate separation of powers or
judicial independence. It is also not clear how the independence of the security apparatus would be compromised if cabinet is involved in the
appointment of its chief. Reading the perfunctory language of the legislative intent together with the parliamentary government discourse
indicates that the cabinet had no say in drafting and introducing the amendments. To the contrary, it only indicates King Abdullah’s rejection
of the idea of submitting even part of his authority to a parliamentary government.
During the so-called Arab Spring, a popular movement emerged in Jordan in the spring of 2011. Among other demands, the protesters called
for a constitutional monarchy to limit the King’s powers, elected governments, security reform and the formation of a Constitutional Court. To
appease the popular sentiments, the King accepted to introduce a set of superficial constitutional amendments. Not long after the said
amendments took place, the bloody events in Syria and Egypt intimidated Jordanians and ended the popular movement juxtaposing reform
In order to consolidate the powers of the King, the stature of the prime minister and the idea of the parliamentarian government headed by a
majority leader must be undermined. The amendment to article 50, which went unnoticed, confirms this impression. The amendment
removed the death of the prime minister as one of the cases when the government had to resign. In such cases, the deputy prime minister,
or the most senior minister, would head the cabinet until a new government is formed. This process denies parliament the opportunity to
select the new head of government.
A government with no control over the heads of the army and security apparatuses shelves any hope for a civilian oversight over the armed
and security sector. As the King is an unaccountable ruler immune from any liability, the latest amendments undermine any hope for the
accountability of the military and security forces. Similarly, confining the appointments of the Chief Justice and the Chairman and members of
the Constitutional Court in the hands of the King compromises the separation of powers and disables the system of checks and balances.
In addition to the controversies that surrounded the substance of some of the amendments, the process of amendment was rushed and not
participatory. Despite the significant implications of the amendments, the people, civil society organizations and other actors were not given
the chance to contribute to the constitutional debate.
Even though the Jordanian constitutional regime is a hybrid system, where the King reigns and rules and yet is immune from liability, the
2016 amendments created further distortions to the constitutional balance of power. Jordanian cabinets are responsible before parliament for
certain acts affiliated with cabinet only theoretically. Constitutionalizing the monopolization of power opens wide the door for oppression and
corruption. The constitutional amendments complicate matters more and delay any hope for democratic reform in Jordan.
In parliamentary democracies similar to the Jordanian constitutional structure, the head of state gradually evolves into a titular leader, not an
absolute ruler. The unwillingness of King Abdulla II to submit part of his authority to parliamentary governments and to effect serious
constitutional reforms, and a system of checks and balances, represent a significant retreat from the token progress towards constitutional
democracy and limited government initiated in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Sufian Obeidat is the President of the Arab Association for Constitutional Law. He practices before Jordanian courts and arbitration
tribunals. Sufian also researches on security sector, political and constitutional reforms.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in Voices from the Field contributions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect International