Monday, January 24, 2011
By Randa Habib
Agence France Presse
AMMAN: King Abdullah II has consulted various political strands in Jordan, hoping “to come closer to the demands of the people,” before planned further street protests this week, a source close to the king said Sunday.
“The Jordanian sovereign held a series of consultations across the political spectrum, including former and incumbent high-ranking officials, activists, unionists and Islamists, to hear the grievances of Jordanians and tune in with the street,” the source told AFP, on condition of anonymity.
The source, a member of the monarch’s entourage, added that the king had made “discreet visits to the Hashemite kingdom’s poorest areas to assess their needs.”
Despite new social measures, protests have been staged in Amman and other cities in the past two weeks against high prices and economic policy, with some demonstrators calling for a change of government.
“The king knows that when people demand the prime minister quit, they are actually protesting the monarch’s management of the country and the fact that he appoints and dismisses prime ministers,” a former minister told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “For the first time, the tribes, the backbone of the regime, as well as opposition groups and social powers, are on the same wavelength and want change.”
The Jordanian Constitution, adopted in 1952, gives the king the exclusive prerogative to appoint and dismiss the prime minister.
About 5,000 Jordanians, according to police estimates, staged a peaceful protest Friday in the capital Amman, while other demonstrations were held in the cities of Zarka and Irbid.
Faced with popular discontent, the government earlier in January adopted new economic measures, including salary increases for state workers and an increase in pensions of $28 a month, the freezing or lowering of some prices, and job creation.
“We will pursue our movement until we obtain our demands,” said Hamzeh Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front, the kingdom’s main opposition party.
“The acute economic crisis and explosive social crisis are the results of a political crisis that needs immediate political reforms,” he said.
Mansour said the government “has lost its credibility and cannot carry out reforms, so we want an interim government that inspires confidence.”
The front demanded an “amendment to the constitution … to limit the powers of the king.”
“We demand that the leader of the parliamentary majority become de facto prime minister or that the chief executive be elected directly by the people,” said Zaki Bani Rsheid, executive member of the front.
“There is no doubt that the Islamists’ intention is to take advantage of this social unrest in order to become part of the executive power. It’s their old plan that they resort to in times of crises,” said the former minister.
According to a Jordanian official, the king “does not plan to dismiss his prime minister in the immediate future.”