On June 10, 2021, His Majesty King Abdullah established a high-level 92 members committee headed by former prime minister Samir Rifai. The committee is entrusted with modernising Jordan’s political system, focusing on elections and political parties. At the heart of the process are the anticipated political reforms and national dialogue that would expand public participation in the decision-making process.
Such a move is timely and highly welcome as Jordan is emerging from the pandemic that has hit the country hard. Yet, it also comes in the wake of a series of events that have drawn global and regional attention to the Kingdom, including rising public demands that culminated in demonstrations in the wake of the pandemic. It is not the first time that Jordan endeavours to modernise the political system with youth and women at the center of this approach. Yet, this time, as the country is marking its centennial, this is an opportunity not to be missed.
Second, Jordan has had to take a series of special measures and defence orders to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. The latter put the Kingdom in a difficult position, confronting the government with the dilemma of weighing public health goals against democratic norms, rights and freedoms. Civil liberties, such as the freedom of assembly or movement, and the separation of powers are crucial to guarantee all types of accountability during normal times but have been curtailed during the pandemic by countries around the world. As we recover and the vaccination campaign moves forward, reforms must also consider this latest element so that the strength of democratic institutions in Jordan can be truly reflected.
Third, in 2020 the UN marked its 75th anniversary, and citizens in Jordan echoed the demands of those around the world: In the future they envisage, they hope the UN would ensure in the immediate term improved access to basic services, inclusive economy and global solidarity, while tackling climate change and poverty, ensuring greater respect for human rights, settling conflicts and reducing corruption in the long-term.
In his policy brief on “COVID-19 and the Arab region: An Opportunity to Build Back Better”, the Secretary-General António Guterres argued that now is the moment to prioritise human rights, ensure a vibrant civil society and free media and create more accountable institutions that will increase citizen trust and strengthen the social contract. Also in 2020, in his Call to Action for Human Rights he asked the United Nations to bring the human rights pillar to the forefront of its agenda and on governments to bring this Call to Action to life.
But, as the secretary general also argued, the United Nations and Member States cannot do it alone. Building forward better requires partnerships and the collective work of many- civil society, academia, the private sector, empowered local governments, to name just a few. The shrinking of civic space around the world is a prelude to further deterioration of human rights. As such, the reform committees in Jordan must also engage with civil society, the work and the consultations must be transparent and inclusive, and their outcomes should enhance meaningful participation in policy and decision making processes.
Jordan’s 2020 parliamentary elections unfortunately witnessed a roll back for women; only some quarter out of the 46 per cent women eligible to vote exercised their right and cast their ballot. Of the 1,674 candidates running, only 360 were women. In addition, for the 130-seat parliament, only the requisite 15 women were elected, down from 20 in the outgoing parliament.
Disconcerting similarities have affected youth in Jordan. The Kingdom has one of the youngest populations in the world, with over 60 per cent of its population under the age of 30. Yet, only 15 per cent of those elected for the 130-seat parliament are under 40, while youth unemployment now hovers at an unprecedented 50 per cent. Encouragingly, Jordan is leading in the implementation of the Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security and 2250 on youth, peace and security [which was adopted by the Security Council in 2015 based on an initiative by Jordan] and the Court has made women and youth the areas of priorities in the reforms.
The Jordan Reforms Committee emerged out of a vision that was forged through the discussion papers penned by the King himself. Today, the vision is still strong and now it is more important than ever that it be translated into tangible reforms to build forward better in Jordan. Jordan is important and trusted partner to the United Nations in many regional issues, from peace and security to humanitarian and development ones. The United Nations stands ready to support the government in its efforts, including through the provision of technical assistance, policy guidance, facilitating dialogue with different stakeholders and contributing to further reform discussions beyond this current process.
Anders Pedersen is the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Jordan
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