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MPs unanimous on importance of constitutional amendments

Amman, Aug 19 (Petra) —- Lawmakers were unanimous Tuesday that constitutional amendments being pushed by the government are "courageous" and fall within the country’s comprehensive reform process spearheaded by His Majesty King Abdullah II.

The amendments seek to expand the jurisdiction of the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) and assign the role to appoint the director of General Intelligence Department and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to the King, the supreme commander of the armed forces.

The MPs agreed during a session, chaired by Lower House speaker Atef Tarawneh and attended by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and cabinet ministers, that vesting these powers in the King would keep the army and security forces out of partisan politics.

The constitutional amendments in question, they noted, are in line with the King’s vision for comprehensive reforms that would lead to the formation of platform-based parliamentary governments.

"The constitutional amendments the government submitted to the House are a practical step to distance the army and security agencies from politics and empower them to undertake the sole task of defending and protecting the homeland," they said.

In today’s meeting, legislators proposed to consider the draft amendments with "a sense of urgency and debate and seek endorsement for these by the specialized committee as quickly as possible, since these are reform-based amendments the country needs at this stage."

They noted that the changes are basic requirements for the country to have parliamentary governments and that these would deepen the democracy and give primacy to the ballot box with the oversight exercised by the IEC during any parliamentary and municipal elections or any other polls requested by the government.

As a majority of the House members agreed on the importance of the amendments and sought to expedite their approval, other lawmakers opposed them, branding them as "a step backward."

Those in disagreement argued that it is inadmissible that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or the director of intelligence remains beyond accountability, since they will be appointed by the King, who, under the constitution, is not subject to accountability.

However, lawmakers concurred that the conditions surrounding Jordan should prompt it to proceed with gradual reforms and warrant "these advanced amendments that enable national institutions to carry out their functions, each within its area of specialization."

Explaining to lawmakers the amendments he had requested in a reply letter to the King, who last week ordered him to activate the defence ministry and give the IEC a wider mandate to oversee and manage all elections, premier Ensour said the changes would not negate the prime minister’s right to subject to accountability the director of the intelligence department and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

"The new thing in these amendments is that His Majesty is the one who appoints the intelligence chief and the army commander in order that the defence minister would not thrust the army into politics. Our successful experiment is to keep the army isolated from politics", he said.

The sole reason for the amendments, he stressed, is to enhance democracy and give it a wider leap forward, warning that failure to pass them would hinder the democratization drive.

The House will start the debate on the amendments on Sunday.


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