- - Monday, September 5, 2011

AMMAN, JORDAN One of the longest-running protests in this season of Arab unrest is marked by peaceful demonstrations for constitutional reform - not the overthrow of a powerful leader.

The government is responding with talks, not bullets, as in neighboring Syria, where security forces have killed more than 2,000.

But protesters for democracy, in the streets of Jordan for the past eight months, are still dissatisfied and suspicious of the recent changes to the constitution proposed by King Abdullah II.

“We won’t stop. The people will stay in the streets until this government steps down, and we win all of our demands,” said Muhanned Safiin, a 28-year-old activist.

He and other protesters are calling for an elected prime minister, instead of one appointed by the king. They want a strong campaign against corruption and want lower food prices.

They also want the pro-Western king to stay in power, but they differ on how much authority the absolute monarch should retain.

Some call for a system like Britain’s, where Queen Elizabeth II is a figurehead leader. Most simply want a prime minister and Cabinet to emerge from an elected majority in parliament.

Recently, Abdullah announced what was termed “historic amendments” to the country’s 1952 constitution that would help the government draft new laws for elections and political parties.

Government officials are still fine-tuning amendments to more than one-third of the Constitution’s 131 articles. Earlier changes over the past 59 years have marginalized Jordan’s parliament and limited its powers.

Abdullah announced proposed constitutional changes last month, but failed to repeat his earlier support for an elected prime minister and Cabinet within three years. The omission has led many to question the seriousness of his proposed reforms.

“It’s too little, too late,” analyst Labib Kamhawi said of the proposed constitutional changes.

“The king wants to give some sort of cosmetic concessions without really touching the issues that matter. Unless the elected parliament is able to choose the prime minister and kick him out also, there will be no reform or democracy in Jordan,” he said.

Mr. Kamhawi said the king will retain full control over the government as long as he can appoint prime ministers, Cabinet officials and members of the 60-seat Senate. The 120 members of the House of Representatives are elected.

“He can hire and fire at will without any accountability to anyone. The prime minister will always see that he is only accountable to the person who brought him to power; that is, the king,” said Mr. Kamhawi.

Hamza Mansour, who heads Jordan’s largest political opposition group, the Islamic Action Front, has criticized the amendment process, which started in May.

He said his group has lost hope for “any genuine and honest reform procedure in the kingdom.”

Mr. Mansour called the government a “one-man show” that failed to consult with political parties and civil society organizations over the amendments.

Other proposed changes include a Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of laws adopted by parliament and an independent panel to supervise elections. The changes would empower civilian courts, instead of state security panels, to try government ministers for misdeeds.

Abdullah said the proposals are “solid proof of Jordan’s ability to revitalize itself and its legislation and approach the future with a vision of social and political reform.”

Despite criticism of the government’s fledging reform attempts, the United States and the European Union are backing steps taken by Abdullah and his government.

EU Special Representative Bernardino Leon commended Jordan for adopting measures toward comprehensive reforms. He called the constitutional amendments an “encouraging first step” and the “beginning of further reform.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also welcomed the announcement, saying it is up to the Jordanian people and their government to “take this forward.”

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