Monday, February 05, 2007

The new municipalities’ law

Yesterday the parliament approved the new municipalities’ law, after some modifications over what the government had proposed. The current law was enacted in 2001, with the stated purpose of improving the effectiveness of local government. It is viewed as undemocratic because the mayors and half of the municipal council members are appointed by the government.

The new law is an attempt to remedy this flaw. Now, the mayors and councils are fully elected by the public (except in Amman, which will retain its current formula). The government had attempted to regain some control through the appointment of a city manager. This, we were told, was in order to ensure that the previous problems faced by municipalities would not recur. These included temptations to overstaff and to forgo tax collection from key constituents, which left most municipalities in dire financial situations. Anyway, the parliament approved the idea of a city manager, but this person will be appointed (and fired) by the council itself and subject to the approval of the minister of municipalities. This modification gutted the concept of much of its meaning. It is also a lean towards democracy. Time will tell if this was a prudent decision.

Other features in the law include a 20% quota for women in the council seats. The mechanism of how they will be chosen is not obvious yet. The deputies allowed for joint membership in both the parliament and in municipal councils. Fahed Khitan views this as selfish. To me, the idea does not seem to be practical, but this is up to the voters now to decide.

One feature is that the mayors of the larger municipalities are required to hold bachelors degrees at a minimum, while the mayors of the smaller cities will be required to hold the high school certifications (tawjihi). Some view this as undemocratic, as it runs against the concept of equal opportunity.

Anyway, the law stipulates that new elections need to be conducted within six months of the approval of the legislation. The clock will start ticking after approval of the senate and ratification by the king.

New elections! What could be more fun for political junkies?



At 1:28 AM, Blogger Arrabi said...

sounds ok. as you said, let's see how this one goes.

By the way, I think the education requirement on the nominees is a very good idea.

I've had an idea for a while on "weighing vote with education". Thus, a PhD gets 10 votes. an MS gets 5 votes. a BSc gets 3 votes. A HS gets 2, and no HS gets 1 vote.

This, of course, goes against equal opportunity, but I don't think this is a practical goal of democracy.

Democracy is really an attempt at creating a practical system that can operate while (mostly) avoiding violent conflict.

For us, in an Arab/Jordanian society, we care about:
1- tribal/regional equality
2- following the "respected opinion" - more than following the "majority opinion"

Thus, this education-weighed-voting system would still achieve these goals:
1- Tribes/regions will not become weaker - just that the educated amongst the tribes/regions will have a stronger vote.
2- People in jordan want to listen to the "wise man"'s opinion. Thus, educated people's vote will be (generally) respected - if people feel that they are part of them.

1- division of voting regions must be fair to the tribal/regional distribution of population. If they are not, then "educated city people" will take over "simple suburbs people".

2- Educational Degrees are not the ultimate threshhold for political suitability. However, they are in indicator - nonetheless. Given that we don't have many choices for indicators, one hopes that educational degree will at least "swing the bias" towards objectivity and more thorough decision making process.

3- I'm sure that universities would start "selling" degrees, or subjectively preventing political opposition from obtaining them. However, this is true in any political system (democratic or not) - people will try to get around the process (be it paying voters, rigging boxes, putting opposition in jail on the day of elections, etc.). I think with some regulations, we can avoid much of such problems.

What do you think ya Khalaf?

(note: by the way, do you read my new comments on very old articles?)

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Arrabi: Sorry, I didn't see any earlier comments. As for the educational requirement for voters, it is an intellectual excersise that will never be implemented. Sure, it sounds good. But nobody will take it seriously.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Tallouza said...

City manager? Sounds like the modern equivalent of Qaim-maqam. "Maqam" who is the question here! A parliament that enacts laws on behalf of the people while half of it is politically appointed is a parliament that is packed rather than elected, and to this end possesses neither moral force nor popular confidence.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Tallouza: What do you mean? The lower house is all elected. The "appointed" senate often inspires my confidence more than the lower house.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Tallouza said...

My comment was about two things: 1. the membership process 2. the caliber, credibility, and legitimacy of those holding this membership. What I meant is that "a chain is as strong as its weakest link". If the chain is our political process, and if the various branches of government are its links, then the rest is self-explanatory. Why not have all representatives elected, Senate and lower house? The mix today consists of the few appointed elites combined with impotent elected members. I am dead serious about the importance of moral force as well as popular confidence when it comes to our representatives. They are entrusted by the people to look after their best interests, and if they do not then we really need to seriously consider the reasons behind this dysfunction. As long as our enacting body is defunct, we should not expect any laws that make any meaningful sense out of it.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Tallouza: There is nothing wrong with the system. I am surprised about your terming the members of the lower house "impotent". I can give you numerous examples over the past year where the parliament did not behave the way the government wanted, including the issue of who appoints the city manager (the subject of this post).

As for the calibre of people who are present, this is inherent to democracy. People do not always elect the most impressive politicians. This is as true in the US as it is in Jordan.

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Tallouza said...

Khalaf, I hate to disagree with you, but on this one I am compelled to. I am surprised you see nothing wrong with the system.

Impotent in this context is meant in its literal meaning "lacking in power, strength, or vigor". If the business of parliament is to provide checks and balances of the other branch (singular), then I am sure both of us can agree on numerous examples where the process has failed miserably. A parliament that lacks the will, the know-how and the mechanism through which to hold the government accountable for scattering public funds is a parliament that needs a little bit of power, strength, and vigor. A parliament that espouses shameful laws such as honor crimes and the press law (subject of one of your previous bogs), is a parliament that is only paying lip service to democracy.

Watching the news these days, I must admit that we should feel lucky to be in the position that we are in today in Jordan. Living in peace is becoming more and more a luxury rather than a an alienable right. Having said all that, maybe we should compromise in our objective assessment of everything including matters pertaining to the democratic process.

By the way, I never considered the US as a benchmark. Our benchmark should be based on the effectiveness of the mandate given to the various public servants in question here.

Sorry for the long reply:-)

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Tallouza: Any system is only as strong as the will available to make it work. Now, the impotence, as you term it, of the parliament is not a function of the system. It is a flaw in the people who are members. As I said, they can make things work when they want it to.

You can't ignore the fact that people actually elected this parliament. People are not interested or dedicated enough to act, to join political parties, write, to blog, or to demonstrate. In effect, I think this parliament this parliament faithfully represents the political state of the Jordanian people. If people wanted anything different, they would act and vote differently.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Tallouza said...

Fair enough. Kama takouno yuwalla 3allaykum.


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