Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Parliament and the press

As part of long awaited reform in Jordan, the government sent a new press and publications law to the parliament. The parliament was already unhappy with the press, with the head of the parliament, Abdulhadi Majali, threatening them with tough legislation if they keep criticizing the MP’s. This developed later into MP’s actually beating up reporters in the parliament.

So, the parliament took the opportunity to live up to its threat. They modified the legislation to allow prohibitively high fines and jailing of journalists for “press crimes”. In what seems to have been a childish atmosphere, MP’s taunted the press during the session, refusing to revisit the issue of jailing. The legislation passed and is now in the hands of the senate, where journalists hope that the legislation will be fixed.

Now, in my humble opinion, any politician who goes out of his way to antagonize the press is a complete idiot. Columnists are having a field day ridiculing the parliament, at a particularly interesting time, considering that the chamber will be dissolved soon and new elections are to be held.

Some of the commentary is blunt and straightforward. Samih Maitah published a long laundry list of parliamentary excesses and failures, whereas Jihad Momani (who was jailed for republishing THE CARTOONS) accused the MP’s directly of disregarding the national interest. This line of debate is more subtle but has devastating implications.

Fleshing this out, Salameh Dir’awi (Al Arab al Yawm) argues that Millennium development funds worth over 500 million dollars may be on the line, as granting countries may view the new law as a retreat from the reform that these funds are to reward.

Another important point that is being made (in a somewhat subtle manner) concerns the future makeup of the parliament. Most agree that the current election law will end up producing a parliament similar to this one. Given the anti-democratic nature of the parliament, the message goes, this is unacceptable. So, what is required is a new election law. Now, given that the parliament has proven itself untrustworthy in dealing with public freedoms’ legislation, a new law should be passed without their input (as a temporary law, which most people find distasteful but may accept given the alternative).

So, the pressure is on to produce a new election law to revamp the make up of the parliament, without them having a say in the legislation.

Did I mention that angering the press is stupid?

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At 12:58 AM, Blogger Fadi Malian said...

In my humble opinion as well :) we need a serious effort in promoting and explaining the need for free speech and press in Jordan. And in order to do that, we need a better parliament that at least will not fight such an effort. But to have such a parliament, we need to reform the election law to help producing a better one. But to be able to do so, we need to solve many issues, such as citizenship and patriotism, genuine belief in democracy among all groups and parties, etc. But to solve these issues we need freedom of speech to debate and discuss freely.

Now the traditional argument that the parliament members are representative of people and unless we change people, all laws will produce similar results is not exactly true. A representative body is a function of people producing it, but it is a function of the law produces it, as well.

The way out is to start the cycle slowly and keep repeating it with small increment each time. (spiral approach). Modify the law slightly to produce better representatives without jeopardizing the stability of the country, the freedom of speech will improve as result. More debates can be opened. Better educated citizens are the result.. Laws can be modified to allow more representation. And so on.

How to start? The chance is now for the government to produce a better law for the coming election in order to get a more balanced parliament.

Some factors that can be considered is increasing both the size of the representative body and the size of the electors per seat. So obviously the one (man) one vote does not work. The advantage of larger body is in increasing diversity and preventing the corruption of the few. It will be harder for the government, or Almajali, or anyone to influence a body with larger number through private interests. It is not easy to have the resources for that. Larger elector number per seat is necessary to allow election based on programs not Manasef. Same idea as before, harder for a candidate to convince people based on private interests when the electors are large in number. I understand that such a formula has disadvantages as well, but we need to evaluate each and to find the middle point were advantages are maximized.

Let assume we need to increase the body to 250. And the average electors per seat to 50,000 voters. That means 250 * 50,000 = 12,5000,000. But we have 2,000,000 voters. Then we need 6 seats per election area. So we need to divide the country onto 40+ areas with 50,000 average (but not equal) registered voters per area. Simple math, but reality is much harder 

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

I like the spiral approach, although some would be too impatient to wait for the results. I don't really like the idea of a bigger parliament. This will lead to more sociatal fragmentation along tribal lines. I am waiting to see what the new election law looks like before I speculate about it.



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