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Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

By: Ramadan Rawashdeh

For: Jordan Television
1 July 2012
(Translated from Arabic)

JTV: Your Majesty, for the past one and a half years, Jordan has witnessed several political and demand-driven movements that began with the start of the Arab Spring. How do you view these movements?

King Abdullah: As for constructive and positive popular movements, I view them positively because this is democracy and they are an indication of the high level of civic engagement by our dear people. Let us be frank here: One of the drives behind these activities is lack of confidence in the ability of state institutions to look after the interests of the public and meet people’s needs and demands for basic services. Add to that the fact that citizens are suffering from high prices of commodities, poverty, unemployment and discrepancies in the distribution of development gains among governorates. Hence, the calls for wider public participation, more equitable distribution of development gains and enhanced integrity in public administration. I side with these demands and fully support them, because they constitute a higher national interest.

JTV: Your Majesty, most of the demands raised by the popular movements are of socio-economic nature, while most of the reforms in the making are political. How will these reforms lead to meeting popular demands?

King Abdullah: I believe that expanding the base of public participation in decision-making is the essence of comprehensive reform. We want the individual to be a partner in making the decisions that affect his or her life. This is the basic premise of political reform that is prone to lead us to socio-economic reform.  The Constitutional amendments were introduced accordingly, involving one third of the entire Constitution, and going beyond what was being demanded. They succeeded in enhancing separation of powers and strengthening rights and freedoms. Other outcomes include the establishment of the Independent Elections Commission. For the first time in Jordan’s history, polls will be held under the supervision of an independent body that will guarantee the highest degree of fairness, transparency and neutrality in the electoral process.  In addition, we now have a teachers’ professional association, while several reform-related laws have been enacted, including the progressive Political Parties Law and the Constitutional Court Law. All this is a qualitative leap on the path of political reform.

Regarding the Elections Law, I have directed the government to amend this piece of legislation to be debated in an extraordinary session of Parliament that will open early next week. Required amendments would see an increase in the number of House seats allocated to the national list, which is a cornerstone in the plan to develop partisan life and platform-based partisan action. It is also necessary to expand the representation base and widen political and popular participation at the national level.

We need to lay the foundations for a new era in Jordan’s political history. This particular law will be constantly amended to ensure that it is responsive to developments in political party life and to changes in circumstances and that it guarantees fair representation of the entire spectra of society.

I would like to add here that we need a democratic culture that cherishes pluralism based on diversity, dialogue and respect of others’ opinions.

JTV: Allow me, Sir, to say frankly that some have described the reform process that is leading to democracy as insincere, claiming that the State is not committed to the envisioned outcomes because they would grant the people more powers, including some of the powers that you exercise or have exercised. 

King Abdullah: The philosophy of governance as far as we, the Hashemites, are concerned is not based on monopoly over power or on force, but rather on historical legitimacy, and on legitimacy stemming from our achievements.  Back to the question, I look at reform from the perspective of national responsibility and public interest.  In order to make sure that everyone understands me, I assert that the ultimate goal of reforms is representative and responsible parliamentary governments based on the presence of political parties and constructive opposition, who will form parliamentary blocs that will, in turn, play effectively and efficiently their role in the formation of coming governments.

Such vision stems from my deep-rooted conviction that parliamentary government lies at the core of the higher national interest. Success in the reform effort hinges on the success of all in shouldering their responsibilities, because democracy is a collective action and real-life practice, rather than wishful thinking or slogans.

JTV: Your Majesty, despite all the reforms achieved, some parties are sceptical about the seriousness of the reform drive, showing dissatisfaction over the scope and quality of these reforms. How do you view such stand?

King Abdullah: All parties, including the Islamic Action Front (IAF), are components of the Jordanian society. They are our sons and brothers and we respect their opinions and right to participate in political life and decision making.

Some parties and political forces demanded changes to some Constitutional articles. We amended one third of the Constitution, a move that went beyond their demands. They asked for a Constitutional Court, an Independent Elections Commission, a Political Parties Law and a new Elections Law. All are in place after a process of dialogue that sought to strike a balance between the demands of all parties, political groups and civil society institutions. But some people insist on seeing only the empty half of the glass.

Anyway, our doors and hearts are open to everyone, including the Muslim Brotherhood and their party, the IAF. I would like to stress here that we are treating all on equal footing, because we are for all.

Having said that, we call on all groups to take part in this reform process and participate in the legislative elections to reach parliamentary governments.

My vision hinges on the nature of the coming Lower House. Its ability to produce parliamentary blocs will be a key factor in selecting the prime minister and in the formation of future governments.

We also count on the possibility that the next Parliament would complete its four-year term as stipulated in the Constitution - this is very important - and work side by side with a government emanating from the House that lasts for the same period, of course, provided that it is able to retain the confidence of the House and the people.

Therefore, it is important that all political powers participate on the basis of platforms, through parties and alliances, so that we can have a qualitative leap in the mechanism of forming governments and start the actual transformation into parliamentary governments.  

JTV: How can we balance the progressive formula of political work you are calling for and the charged general atmosphere, especially in light of the state of polarisation we are witnessing?

King Abdullah: What we have achieved was meant to pave the way for the future. It is not the endgame.

No process of change will ever satisfy everyone, due to the different backgrounds, visions, opinions, and perhaps motives and interests. This is natural. But what is rejected is a situation where a certain group or party takes advantage of the change process to impose its own agenda and alienate others or attempt to sow sedition and chaos among the one people, who are equal in their rights and duties.

I am hopeful that each will shoulder his or her responsibility, so that we can stand up to the challenges of poverty, unemployment and the need for better services. We are partners in this country, challenged to build our future and address all shortcomings.

JTV: Your Majesty, the reference to polarisation and charged atmosphere leads us to the issue of the so-called declining state prestige. Is state prestige on the line?

King Abdullah: Serving justice and equality in applying the law are the factors that preserve the prestige of the state and the rights of citizens and their freedoms and dignity. The state is not a strange entity that stands far from the entirety of the society’s components. As far as I am concerned, the prestige of the state is embodied in Jordanians’ pride in their identity and history, confidence in the future and in the civilised way they deal with others. It is reflected in their keenness to protect public property and respect the law.

It is true that there are some violations, but, God be praised, they are limited and our people show a high degree of awareness. They can differentiate between legitimate political activity and attempts to breach the law and order and commit acts of sabotage.

The self-restraint and tolerance the State has shown so far should not be mistaken for weakness. We, as Jordanians, should bear in mind that we define strength as the ability to understand, debate and show forgiveness and tolerance, as opposed to suppression and close-mindedness.

God be praised, all Jordanians of all backgrounds, in the villages and cities, in the badia and refugee camps, have shown responsible loyalty by standing behind State institutions throughout the times of instability that have swept the region. 

JTV: Your Majesty, allow me to move to the difficult economic situation. Is there a strategy to deal with this complicated file?

King Abdullah: Yes, the economic situation is difficult and I am fully aware of its impact on the lives of citizens who toil day and night to put bread on the table for their families. Therefore, we have to take realistic decisions to work out radical solutions to economic challenges, especially during the current critical stage, which requires a strong Lower House that truly reflects popular will and a government that wins the confidence of the House and the people to implement these decisions.

This is why political reform is a pressing socio-economic necessity.

When I stress the need to hold parliamentary elections at the end of this year, my stand reflects the urgency to address the needs of citizens in their quest for daily bread and jobs. Citizens do not have the luxury of time to wait. They want radical solutions. 

JTV: Some see the current economic crisis as the result of past economic policies, including privatisation. How do you respond to that?

King Abdullah: There are calls for revisiting several economic policies such as privatisation, openness and others.

The fact is that big achievements have been made, but that does not necessarily mean that there have been no mistakes in distributing the gains of development among governorates and in the provision of social protection to segments most affected by these policies. Much of the blame is pinned on privatisation in particular.

In this context, it would be useful to form a committee of local and international experts in socio-economics renowned for their integrity, neutrality and wide experience and entrust them with reviewing all privatisation transactions since the great economic crisis of 1989. Their job would be to assess the socio-economic impact of these policies, citing facts, rather than impressions, and within a short and fixed timeframe. The goal would be to identify failures and successes and incorporate the study’s outcome into future socio-economic planning.

JTV: Your Majesty, in light of the global economic crises and their effect on Jordan, has your economic vision changed?

King Abdullah: Our economic vision for Jordan and its future is founded on balance, partnership and integration between the private and public sectors and civil society institutions.

Accordingly, the government is supposed to play its regulatory and monitoring role and work to protect consumers and rationalise consumption. This requires diversification of energy sources, reliance on local resources, encouraging investment and preventing monopoly. Governments are also required to shoulder their social responsibility through efforts to combat poverty and unemployment and provide education and healthcare services.

As for the private sector, its duty is to invest, create jobs and support a culture of innovation.

We have to bear in mind at all times that our resources are limited and that we import the bulk of our energy and food needs. By the way, it was the energy bill that increased the budget deficit and raised public debt to unprecedented levels.

JTV:  I would like to move to another hot topic: Corruption and suspected cases of corruption, which have been the talk of the town. How do you evaluate the State’s performance in this field? 

King Abdullah: Put simply and briefly, those who are proven corrupt will be punished in accordance with the law.

When I say that no one is above the law, this must not be taken as a pretext for character assassination and score-settling, as has regrettably happened in some cases. Our aim is to combat corruption and hold the corrupt accountable, because the efforts exerted by our fathers and the sacrifices they made under difficult conditions while they were building this country are a legacy to uphold. Therefore, no corrupt person is protected and we have a complete national integrity system that needs constant upgrading and development.

Jordan is a state of law and institutions and we are in the process of drafting a national integrity charter and enhancing the capacity of concerned agencies to boost citizens’ confidence. It is essential that these institutions publicise the results of their anti-graft efforts to the public, while maintaining the secrecy of investigations.

JTV: There are people who cast doubt over these agencies’ ability to perform their job.

King Abdullah: I am fully aware that there are some who question the ability and independence of these institutions as they combat corruption. But I would like to assert that those who run such agencies are sons of this country who are keen to protect its future. They enjoy full authority to carry out their duties and take responsibility for their decisions.

Having said that, we urge more firmness in the fight against corruption, because it is also our duty to protect the innocent. Rumours, false allegations, character assassination and associating corruption and the corrupt with a system of thought and an approach, rather than actions, do not make any sense and are totally rejected. Let me highlight a point here. For every corrupt person, there are thousands of honourable people who are faithful to the country. We count on these good people to lead us across the bridge into a bright future. Let us look at the full half of the glass: There are huge efforts being exerted to uproot corruption and institutionalise mechanisms of graft deterrence.  There are cases being seen by the judiciary or probed by the Anti-Corruption Commission. Let us give these institutions sufficient time to ensure that justice is served. 

JTV: Your Majesty, despite all the reforms implemented and efforts made to fight corruption, there is still tension in the air. Why is that?

King Abdullah: The democracy that we seek guarantees the right to free expression, freedom of opinion and peaceful protest, in full respect of the law and the public interest.

I think various media outlets have played a considerable part in creating a charged and tense atmosphere. As everyone knows, there are media outlets that have their own agendas and thus serve the interests of their financers. In general, these outlets lack professionalism, objectivity and credibility.

As for the official media, which enjoy some professionalism and objectivity, they have regrettably failed to deal with the current stage and the exceptional conditions in the region with the required level of professionalism and ability to influence public opinion.

Therefore, I call on all media outlets to reach as high a level of professionalism, objectivity and responsibility as the freedom they enjoy, and to shun sensationalism and rumours, which undermine both the mission of professional media and national interest. We should all bear in mind that the margin of freedom ends at the thresholds of responsibility and higher national interest.

JTV: Your Majesty, are you optimistic about the future?

King Abdullah: Yes, I am optimistic and fully confident that we will cross this stage with the strong will and determination of our people. This has been the case with Jordan throughout its history. The future of generations to come is in our hands. We will go ahead to fulfil the promise, carrying the same message. Patriotism is not about slogans, but rather constructive work and generosity towards the country. I want all to rest assured that reform is irreversible.