A coalition of political personalities and parties has launched serious calls for the departure of the government of Premier Marouf Bakhit, supported by what appears to be a majority in parliament and a disgruntled population that accuses the premier of not responding to its demands.
This shows an escalating dissatisfaction with the premier’s decision to ignore the vibrant and persistent political environment in the country, which has demanded serious reform, and his resistance to a constructive and transparent dialogue with the political opposition in order to draw the map for that reform.
The government has proved over the past few months that it acts alone. Despite the theatrics of forming committees, it is clear that it is selective in who it listens to and has largely avoided entering into any serious discussions with opponents of its policies.
Even parliament, which would have been the first base for that type of open discussion, resorted to openly demand the removal of the government, declaring that it fears the impact of the single mindedness of the premier.
It is interesting that the anger with the executive authority’s performance seems to be directed at the person of the premier and not at other government members, perhaps reflecting the belief that the actual management of government is where the fault is and that the executive decision-making process is not actually happening within Cabinet meetings and in government corridors and offices.
Whether it is the decision to detach or attach municipalities, the elections law committee whose findings did not suit the government, the constitutional amendments that did not address real reform, the dual nationality debacle, heavy-handed handling of demonstrations, the ostracisation of political opponents, reformers are frustrated and want to see the process succeed with minimum damage to the country.
The image conjured up by the now rampant criticism of the prime minister is that of a bull trapped in a china shop: large, active and quite determined, but in the process breaking all the fragile and valuable elements around it.
The conundrum lies in whether to respond to all these demands for the removal of the government and, more specifically, whether a change of prime minister would immediately shift responsibility for the mistakes made by this government to another, and therefore burn that government before it has a chance to amend the situation.
Some argue that this government must be made to own up to its mistakes and fix them. Some argue that as the parliament finds its political footing and becomes more articulate in its political vision, it may make sense to empower parliament and allow it the time to exercise its powers as dictated by democratic rules. Even though that would be a slow process, it would give impetus to our demands for a plausible and convincing parliament and would form the platform for accountability when Jordanians vote for a new parliament in the next elections.
Others say that this emerging system of political accountability - even in the form of demonstrations and political coalitions - is the stuff of democracies and that it should be allowed to “reform the government” and therefore change the old mindset where prime ministers thought they had absolute power over the people, instead of being implementers of the will of the people.
Regardless of where the demands will lead us, there are clear lessons that government - any government - needs to learn: the days where governments decided and parliament and people followed are clearly over; the narratives that deride and undermine opponents are no longer acceptable; single mindedness and stubbornness are not features of a powerful government; dialogue means more than holding a meeting or forming a committee, it requires an ability to listen, hear, absorb, process, debate and change; the people are not necessarily political actors, but they are the best source of information about their own welfare and the coping mechanisms they employ or need; respect, trust and good governance are the positive results of a credible process among multiple actors.
In order for any government to positively engage and win the support of the people and their representatives today, it is important to change the mindset by which the relationship is conducted from one of ownership and absolute command to one of mutual recognition.
We need a change of mindset immediately, to allow Jordan to present its process of reform as a positive model of inclusion and participation. This may require a change of the senior political actors or it may not, but it is clear that change will not be effective in defusing the tension unless it is coupled with the political will to become engaged with the people.