Taher al-Masri reveals how the American and British ambassadors intervened in amending Jordanian election laws
Translate by Zach Bampton
2011 was a turning point in the history of political reform in Jordan. That year, the National Dialogue committee was formed with the president of the Jordanian Senate, Maher al-Masri, as its chair. The committee produced several changes in the election and political party laws that became the basis of the 17th Parliament elections.
According to these laws, the number of seats in Parliament was raised to 140 in the initial draft with 17 seats for electoral lists, which includes a quota for women.
The government of Dr. Aoun al-Khisawneh sent the bill to the House of Representatives at the end of its normal session in April 2012 and Parliament was called into a special session in June, which was considered the first of its kind, to discuss and approve the law that had passed from the House and Senate.
Surprisingly, the law was quickly and easily passed through the Senate, so following the conclusion of the special session, a royal decree was sent out on June 29 that called the Parliament back for a second special session. During this second session, the number of seats on the national list was raised from 17 to 27. Parliament quickly complied with the royal will and passed the amendment in July.
King Abdullah II called upon the government at that time to “take the necessary actions in coordination with the legislature and to deal with some of the new articles of the law, including what is related to the national list.”
The king considered that the national list was “an essential pillar in the development of party-based political life in Jordan, as well as in broadening representation and popular political participation at the national level.”
Following the king’s dissolution of the 16th Parliament, elections for the 17th Parliament were held in January 2013 on the basis of the new law. During the inauguration of the 17th Parliament, the king made clear in his throne speech that “elections were held on the basis of the new electoral law that isn’t perfect, but is compatible with the national consensus. It is incumbent upon us to review this law based upon your experience, review the election system in terms of this consensus, and improve fair representation.”
Al-Masri, the former Prime Minister and President of the Jordanian Senate, reveals in his recently published memoirs “The Truth is White” (2021) details of the surprising change in election laws and why the number of seats on the general national list were raised from 17 to 27. He said “in a news conference that I held to announce the [National Dialogue] committee’s results, I added a new term to the Jordanian political dictionary: the Jordanian political system is built on evolution not revolution. Thus, the Jordanian system is strong because it relies on a gradual progression of societal change and builds on prior achievements. I affirmed this principle through my presentation on the political part of the committee’s recommendations.”
He added “after that, the government drafted a new bill for parliamentary elections that took up the committee’s recommendations, which set aside 17 sets for the general electoral lists. [The government] passed it to the House of Representatives where it was passed in that form and then the bill was sent to us in the Senate where we passed it as well.”
Al-Masri disclosed how the American and British embassy intervened to change the law so that the number of set-aside seats for the general national list were raised from 17 to 27. He said “I was surprised by the desire of some foreign embassies, specifically the American and British embassy, in raising the number of seats. It became clear to me that this desire had been directly communicated to the Royal Court and not to either the House of Representatives or the Senate.”
Al-Masri proceeded to say that “while the Legal Committee in the Senate was studying the law, the British ambassador Peter Millett visited me and asked me where we were and what we had decided in regard to the number of seats for the national list. I told him that it would be 17; he was surprised by that, saying the agreement with the Royal Court was that the number would be 27 seats.”
He continued saying “I didn’t respond to [Millett] or argue with him over the extent of his right to intervene in a purely legislative, electoral matter. He understood that the Senate was not concerned with what was agreed on by the Royal Court, but rather we were concerned with what had been agreed on between the House of Representatives and the Senate. If there was a second conversation with another official side, then he could go to them and not to the Senate.”
Al-Masri added “after a couple of days the American ambassador Steward Jones came to my office and went over the same topic with me. My answer to him was the same one I gave to Millett: the law in the Senate follows certain procedures, and it was decided to raise the number of seats to 17.”
He remarked that “we sent the law to the Royal Court to receive royal approval, and later Abdul Karim al-Daghma, the President of the House of Representatives, and I were summoned to meet with King Abdullah II. He informed us that he would sign the law that had been passed by Parliament, but the government would send an amendment the same week raising the number of seats on the national list to 27. This was the number that the two ambassadors had confirmed with me earlier.”
“I was very surprised by this arrangement,” said al-Masri, “and I answered the King and told him this was unusual procedure. It would be preferrable and more logical for him to return the bill back to the Jordanian Parliament, which would be his constitutional right. I assured him that al-Daghma and I would implement this amendment ourselves in the House and Senate, and that this could happen in less than a week. Subsequently, the number 27 became constitutional and untarnished.”
Al-Masri concluded his story by saying “as far as the fact the King would accept and ratify the law and then the government would hurry to send an amendment on the same day is strange and bewildering. I tried to inquire from him about the reasons for this action, and al-Daghma supported me in my question and position. I repeated the question again and hoped he would take our recommendation, but he declined. Still today, I don’t know the reason behind this action or who called for it.”