By Khetam Malkawi
Since its first day in office, the government of Prime Minister Fayez Al-Tarawneh was described by Jordanian politicians and analysts as “provocative” as it adopted decisions that sparked anger across the country.
Unlike the previous three governments that took the office over the past two years, during the Arab Spring, who were cautious not to take any decision that would anger the public, Al-Tarawneh’s government neglected street demands by enforcing fuel price hikes leading to strikes that swept the kingdom’s 12 governorates over the weekend and prompted parliamentarians to sign a motion of no confidence.
Late Friday, authorities decided to raise the price of 90-octane gasoline from 0.7 Jordanian Dinars (JD) per litre to JD0.77, a 10 per cent rise, and the price of diesel from JD0.515 per litre to JD0.55. Friday’s decision was the second price hike in the past three months, since Al-Tarawneh took office.
This decision, according to officials, was aimed at minimising the cost on the Treasury, which is expected to suffer an estimated deficit of over JD1 billion this year, of supporting oil derivative prices.
This sudden rise was met with shock by Jordanians from all walks of life who took to the streets chanting slogans against the Cabinet, demanding Al-Tarawneh and his ministers leave office amid courageous slogans that targeted the monarch, King Abdullah, himself.
Not only the public showed anger, but also 89 MPs of the 120-seat lower house of parliament signed a motion of no confidence against Al-Tarawneh’s government, in response to this decision and previous decisions.
Unless saved by the bell, more escalated measures were supposed to take place across the country of 6.5 million people.
Two days into implementation of the fuel price hike, the king ordered the government to freeze the decision, absorbing the anger of Jordanians.
This last decision by the Cabinet was not the only provocative one, but it was the most, as it affected the majority of the country’s people, according to analysts interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly.
Islamic Action Front (IAF) Secretary-General Hamzah Mansour described this government as a “burden”.
“It started its mission by ignoring the people and political parties’ demands of having a fair elections law,” Mansour said, noting this government “adopted” again the one-person one-vote electoral system that was rejected by the majority of Jordanians.
The IAF was the first political party to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections set to take place before the end of this year, objecting to the one-man one-vote law, saying that it aims at eliminating their presence in the people’s parliament.
The government also put itself in confrontation with the media after endorsing amendments to the Press and Publications Law that seeks to limit media freedoms and targets online media, according to Mansour.
Two weeks ago, the government endorsed amendments to the law under which a specialised court will look into media cases, and set a four-month deadline for this court to wrap up any case it looks into.
The legislation also holds online media outlet publishers responsible for comments their readers might post under published articles, in addition to requesting them to archive comments for a period no less than six months.
The draft law, which met with refusal from journalists and online news publishers, is currently being deliberated by the House of Representatives.
But the last decision of raising fuel prices was the worst, according to Mansour, who noted that the king’s interference saved the country from falling into crisis.
Jamil Nimri, a deputy and political analyst, agrees with Mansour, but added that the government is “narrow minded” as it “challenged” Jordanians.
Over the past three months, the government announced appointments in high positions that involved relatives of influential figures, and left no room for discussion.
This was also a concern for writer and owner of an online news website Basel Okour who said the government’s appointments is an indicator that “public opinion and public reaction is not of its interest”.
He added that although three previous governments did not achieve political and economic reform, none of them had the courage to challenge the public as this government, which increased tension in the streets.
Meanwhile, Nimri slammed the government for not opening discussion with Islamists, noting that different currents of the community were waiting for the government to interact with them, “but it failed to”.
According to Nimri, the government’s decisions reflect the absence of consensus and consultation among government members.
He also noted that although the government stopped the hike of fuel prices, this would not protect it from the no-confidence vote adopted by deputies this week.
The deputy explained that the motion came after an accumulation of wrong decisions made by the government.
Political analyst Hassan Barari also echoed Nimri’s view and described the government as being “autocratic”.
“The autocratic mind-set of the prime minister and his government has only deepened the political crisis in Jordan. The government — which was supposed to be transitional — has made catastrophic decisions that have furthered the widening gap in trust between the state and society,” said Barari, who is also a professor at the University of Jordan.
He added that the last decision to raise the prices of petrol in Jordan convinced observers and pundits that the prime minister is isolated from the street: “The government cannot claim with any credibility that it is responsive to the demands of people.”
All these decisions were taking place, according to Barari, at a time the government has mobilised its resources to convince Jordanians to register for the upcoming elections. However, he said: “The modest number of those who have registered for elections is indicative of the lack of trust of the people in this government.”
So far, of the three million Jordanians who can vote, only 700,000 citizens have registered for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
This crisis, prompted news reports expecting that Al-Tarawneh would submit his resignation to the king within days.
Although Barari considers the government’s resignation — or being dismissed by the king — a must, Mansour said that its resignation alone would not be a solution.
“Over the past two years there were four governments and they failed to achieve reform. Thus the only solution is to have a national salvation government,” Mansour concluded. Republished from Al Ahram Weekly