Jordanians Vote for the First Time Since Arab Spring
[Broll of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour from AJ interview]
VO: A new parliament was voted into office in Jordan by 56% of 2.3 million registered voters. The Islamic Action Front and leftist opposition groups boycotted the elections, calling them â€œcosmeticâ€ and not dealing with their demands for real reform. Voters said they were forced to choose among the same tribal and pro-government figures who have dominated previous, corruption-ridden parliaments. Jordanians ended 2012 with street protests calling for the first time the downfall of King Abdullahâ€™s regime. Last November, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour introduced austerity measures, slashing subsidies and raising fuel prices by 54%. The International Monetary Fund hailed the move as an â€œimportant stepâ€ towards fixing the countryâ€™s $3 billion deficit. [broll of protests]
We canâ€™t marry-off the children, we canâ€™t pay the rentâ€¦they raise the prices and we remain silent.
The (burkan) needs to make a difference. Itâ€™s the first time I go down to protest. I canâ€™t marry off the kids. I am taking my kids out of university. What now? How long will this last for? [ya pharoan shoo pharanak?], he said â€œno civilian will hinder me from raising the pricesâ€. The gas has become so expensive that us and our children have to sleep in one room to stay warm.
I am looking for another citizenship. I canâ€™t survive! I canâ€™t find anything ______ in this country! Why should I leave my country? It seems that other countries respect their citizens and be able to eat, drink and educate my children!
They raised the prices without consulting with the public. Without warning even. We woke up and found they had increased. How and why? That wasnâ€™t important. What was important was that they raised the prices and they donâ€™t care what we think. [I am here because] I wonâ€™t allow my parents to stand in line at the post office to get a social assistance cheque to get 23 Dinars ($32 USD) every four months. I plan on receiving a 4 year university degree, and I will not stop half-way so I can stand with my mother to receive her 23 JOD/four monthsâ€”which I know that after the first installment comes they wonâ€™t receive a cheque again.
VO: A resource poor landlocked country, Jordan imports 96% of its energy. Itâ€™s economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid. Last year alone, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE have EACH pledged to provide $1.2 billion in aid. The government has had to cut more than 10 percent of its spending to secure a promised $2 billion IMF loan.
Yasser Melhim, Student
With regards to foreign aid, USAID at its head, these organizations have replaced the stateâ€™s role. Today, we are lacking essential state services and has weakened the state, and a result has allowed these organization to get involved in political decisions.
Ren Wahbe, Architect
I am here today because I am concerned about the economic problems we are facing under this regimeâ€”especially the conditional IMF loans. We are taxed people to lower the deficit, but continue to take foreign loans to implement projects ridden with corruption and theft. This also comes at the price of oppression and imprisonment, even murder.
Yasser Melhim, Student
With regards to increasing the prices, the Jordanian parties came up with alternative methods to cover the deficit of the general budget by incriminating corruption, reclaiming stolen Jordanian resources, and reclaiming corrupt privatization deals of public assets. Any capable lawyer can revise these shady contracts and reclaim the companies that were sold to support the Jordanian budget.
VO: Fearing spillover from Syriaâ€™s revolution in the North, and eyeing Egyptâ€™s Muslim Brotherhood now in power, Jordanians have not taken chants for regime change lightly. Threatened by a violent confrontation with police, opposition groups quickly scaled back their demands and called for electoral reforms, investigations into corrupt privatization deals, and an end to a heavy-handed security state.
JAMAL Hussein, Lawyer, Activist: The youth who chanted [for the downfall of the regime], from the political movement, I believe that they were trying to accelerate the course of events. They didnâ€™t take into consideration that the average citizen is only demanding reform. Even the political groups are still not proposing it as a solution. Weâ€™ve seen in other Arab countries the calls on the street was faster than political groupâ€™s demands. But this is not the case in Jordan. The street has not called for bringing down the regime.
I believe this has impacted the movement and peopleâ€™s reaction in the street. We havenâ€™t made solid gains, but weâ€™ve broken a barrier with the regime and he is now worried. However, the ones weâ€™ve scared the most is the average citizen.
VO: Jordanâ€™s main opposition group is the Islamic Action Front, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The IAF receives the majority its support from Palestinian Refugees, making up almost half of Jordanâ€™s population. The group has called for the cancellation of the Israeli peace treaty, Jordan being one of two countries that have signed. The IAF has boycotted the elections, and has rejected offers for seats in the parliament and senate.
Nimer Al-Assaf, Deputy General Secretary, IAF
The Islamic Action Front stems really from the Brotherhood organization in Jordan
And it represents something, what we call, a popular movement. We do not actually aim to be ministers or members of parliament. We were offered to be ministers and given seats in parliament. How many seats do you want in parliament? 25, 30? 40? But participate in the elections.â€
It is an absolute monarchy, and we demand that it goes back to a parliamentary monarchy.
Constitutional reforms which means we are asking for a parliament which does not gets dissolved by the King; we are asking for a government which stems from the parliament.
We believe fighting corruption is what should have been carried out first.
We are also asking for the upper house to be elected. We are asking for the secret service police to stop interfering in the civilian and political life. We are asking for the reform of the electoral law.
VO: Unions in Jordan have led street protests in the past months and have joined calls for government reform and an end to price hikes.
Jamal Hussein, Lawyer, Activist
The unions play a clear political role and they are trying to put pressure on the political parties. and there was formed one of the strongest organizations across the nation, and an important opposition force against the regime.
The teachersâ€™ union is considered the largest union in Jordan. It was taken by force from the regimeâ€™s control by using public pressure, staging street protest and sit-ins. There was also a two-week teachersâ€™ strike across the country.
They have also played an important role in speaking out against the price hikes by going on strike for two days, and are putting lots of pressure on the regime.
The movement benefitted from the teachersâ€™ unionâ€™s pressure since throughout the last year when the teachers were gaining their rights in the union, a group of teachers came out of this fight more politicized. The teachers started engaging more in the public sphere, and as a result encouraged the youth to challenge leaders of political parties.
President of the Health Workersâ€™ Union
Jordanians and the unions are against the governmentâ€™s decision to increase the prices. We are against the economic path we have been headed towards for years, and we are against that these economic woes impact our citizens. The middle class, the poor, the workers and the farmers are most impacted by the price hike. We for reforming the system, and we refuse this decision. We demand the current parliament be dissolved and to form a National Rescue Committee, and to stop this decision immediately. If our demands arenâ€™t met, we will continue making our voices heard.
VO: Jordanians have demanded an end to intimidation tactics historically used by state police for stifling dissent. Jordanâ€™s Interior Ministry has reportedly been raiding candidate supportersâ€™ homes to allegedly curb any attempts at vote buying during the elections.
At this moment, the regime represents [el kame7]. This regime does not allow us freedom of expression. We are here at a peaceful protest with a various union groups, and the Darak have been sent to stop us. This regime has driven the Jordanian economy into chaos and borderline bankruptcy.
VO: The Islamic Action Front, workersâ€™ unions and leftist groups have all called for a boycott of the parliamentary elections. Protesters say they have little faith these, elections will put an end to corruption, an ailing economy and a heavy handed police state. King Abdullah will continue facing challenges as further cuts in electricity subsidies and public sector benefits are promised to soon secure a $2 billion IMF loan.
This is Danya Nadar, for the Real News