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October 27, 1989 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-10-27

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Elections In Jordan Are Seen
As Way To Blow Off Steam


Foreign Correspondent

ordan's King Hussein
is hoping to give his
subjects the opportuni-
ty to blow off some steam
when they go to the polls on
Nov. 8, their first such
outing in 22 years.
The elections are not so
much a mark of the king's
sudden conversion to
democratic ideals as a
response to the rising tide of
political and religious dis-
sent, laced with deep
economic woes.
The precariously balanced
monarch was given an in-
timation of the mortality
last April when thousands of
his subjects — two-thirds of
whom are Palestinians —
embraced the tactics of their
brothers across the Jordan
River and launched a mini-
The violence was sparked
by a series of International
Monetary Fund-induced
fiscal measures, which in-
volved price hikes of up to 50
percent on a wide range of
goods and services, aimed at
helping Jordan to pay off its
$5.4 billion foreign debt.
By the time order was
restored, at least 11 people
were dead, scores more were
wounded, hundreds were in
jail and the Gucci kingdom
— so called because of the
designer lifestyle of the king
and his glamorous American
consort — had lost much of
its glitz.
Hussein, who has ruled
Jordan for 37 of his 55 years
with a mixture of cunning
and guile, moved swiftly to
shift the blame for the
economic malaise — as well
as talk of corruption and
mismanagement — away
from the royal palace.
He rescheduled Jordan's
debts, replaced his hapless
prime minister (and boyhood
friend) Zaid al-Rifai with the
lackluster armed forces
chief, Field Marshal Sharif
Zaid Bin Shaker, and an-
nounced the November elec-
tion date.
This was followed by the
hasty flight into exile of a
number of key Jordanian of-
ficials, notably the head of
the national airline, the
chief of police and the head
of the Petra Bank, a major
financial institution in Jor-
Nor was the king able to
halt the precipitous fall in




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the value of the dinar, which
halved in the past year,
causing anxiety and damage
not only in Jordan but also
among Palestinians in the
West Bank, where the dinar
remains widely accepted as
the currency of commerce
despite Hussein's dis-
engagement from the ter-
ritories 18 months ago.
In an atmosphere where a
growing number of Israeli
voices are insisting that Jor-
dan is Palestine, the
primary purpose of the elec-

King Hussein: Hedging his bets.

tions is to evoke a sense of
Jordanian identity among
Jordan's Palestinian
majority and legitimize the
Hashemite throne by ap-
pearing to increase public
participation in the affairs of
state and reduce the sense of
"After the riots, it was im-
portant for Hussein to dem-
onstrate his efforts to
democratize the system and
to open up more channels of
expression," according to
Professor Asher Susser,
head of the Tel Aviv Univer-
sity's Center for Middle East
"A major complaint in
Jordan has been a sense of
denial of freedom," he said.
"The elections will provide
partial compensation for
"After his disengagement
from the West Bank, it is
also important for Hussein
to strengthen the legitimacy
of the Hashemite throne by a
democratic process."
Many observers, however,
believe that the appearance
of democracy is illusory, and
few Jordanians are seriously
persuaded that they are

about to start charting their
own destiny.
"The elections mean
nothing," said one Jorda-
nian businessman. "Nothing
has changed. What matters
is that something should be
done to give the people jobs
and give them something to
live on. Otherwise there will
be another explosion."
Indeed, the sense that the
elections are merely a sham
designed to distract atten-
tion from the real problems
and buy time is reinforced by
the condition under which
they are being conducted.
Political parties are bann-
ed, so the 652 candidates for
office are contesting the 80
parliamentary seats as
"independents." Public
meetings are prohibited,
television and radio are for-
bidden to report on the cam-
paign, and martial law re-
mains in force.
Moreover, the constituen-
cies have been carefully
weighted to favor the
villages, where Hussein en-
joys most support, at the ex-
pense of the towns and cities,
where his support is doubt-
In matters of substance,
the newly elected parlia-
ment will essentially act,
like it has in the past, as an
overblown city hall. The
king will continue to reserve
the right to choose the prime
minister and to control all
matters relating to foreign
affairs and defense.
Parliament will be given
additional powers to deal
with the economy, but these
powers are unlikely to be
sufficient to allow it to in-
vestigate excesses and cor-
ruption, which are said to
reach deep inside the royal
King Hussein has taken a
risk in allowing his people
even this very limited in-
volvement in this very lim-
ited display of democracy.
The decision to hold elec-
tions in response to the April
riots is clearly seen as a sign
of weakness and could prove
to be the catalyst for further
unrest if popular expecta-
tions are not fulfilled.
Hussein, meanwhile, has
carefully hedged his gamble
and nothing —including the
election results themselves
— are regarded as being ir-
In a television address
earlier this month, the king
warned hss people not to
vote for those who espouse

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