- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

AMMAN, Jordan King Abdullah II unveiled a new power-sharing system for selecting future Cabinet ministers, saying Wednesday he will consult with parliament on the formation of government.

Jordan’s king, who is a close U.S. ally, has weathered months of street protests calling for his powers to be curtailed.

In an effort to avoid the kinds of uprisings that have toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Abdullah is seeking to appease activists by giving elected representatives a greater say in politics.

The change, which will be enacted next year, is significant because it allows the elected 120-seat parliament to consult with the king on the makeup of future Cabinets.

The current system gives the king the sole right to form a government.

Abdullah told lawmakers in an annual speech to parliament that the power-sharing deal will strengthen parliament’s role in politics by “involving the elected lawmakers, who represent the aspirations of the people, in the consultative process leading to the designation of prime ministers.”

The next legislature also will be elected under new laws, the king said. He called this part of a “comprehensive democratic transformation” and “political reform.”

Abdullah’s adviser, Amjad Adaileh, explained that a “consultation mechanism” will soon be designed to allow for a smooth formation of Cabinet.

The king, under pressure from protesters, also has promised to allow voters the right to eventually elect a prime minister who would then form a government.

It is unclear what the king’s role will be in the formation of such a Cabinet.

Parliamentary elections are likely to be held as early as June, but the timetable for when people can vote on a prime minister is also remains unclear.

King Abdullah has insisted that it will take two to three years until voters can elect their prime minister, arguing that time is needed to amend laws and merge Jordan’s 33 fragmented political parties into several core coalitions.

Officials have floated the idea that Jordan eventually could have two or three main parties, and the party with the majority of seats in parliament would then form a Cabinet.

The king said he wants an independent local election commission to supervise the next round of parliamentary elections and a constitutional court to monitor the application of amended laws.

He called on parliament to enact laws that protect free press and freedom of speech.

Parliament already has changed laws to allow for protests and the formation of a teachers’ union - previously taboo because successive governments feared that a politicized syndicate could influence students.

Last week, Abdullah replaced the widely disliked prime minister, who was accused of curtailing reform, with a liberal judge who once served in The Hague.

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