Jordan’s lower house of parliament narrowly cleared the prime minister from involvement in a corruption case involving the licensing of a casino on the shores of the Dead Sea. MPs voted 53 to 50 not to indict prime-minister Marof Al-Bakhit. Ten MPs abstained from the impeachment vote and six did not attend the session, according to the official news agency.
However, 86 MPs voted for the impeachment of former minister of tourism Osama Dabbas.
Earlier in the week, a parliamentary committee appointed to investigation the allegations accused the prime minister of abuse of power and held him "morally and legally accountable" in a case that has gripped the nation for several months. Sixteen former ministers including one serving cabinet member were also implicated.
According to the constitution, parliament is the only body authorised to impeach ministers after securing two-thirds of the house's vote. The casino case dates back to 2007 when Bakhit's first government signed an agreement with a British Company, Oasis Holding Investment Ltd, to operate a casino in Sweimeh. The deal was to give the government up to 40 per cent of tax revenue. One week after endorsing the agreement, however, the officials in charge decided to hold the deal. The government of Nader Al-Dahabi, who served from 2007 to 2009, renegotiated the deal to avoid paying a penalty of JD 1 Billion (US$ 1.4 billion) for annulling the agreement.
Earlier in the week, hundreds of Jordanians protested in the home town of Dabbas, at a rally in which Dabbas warned against him being used as a scapegoat in the casino case.
In an unrelated incident, information minister Taher Al Adwan, resigned from the cabinet in protest against proposed new media laws. The minister said the laws would “restrict freedom of expression and were a setback to the government's reform plan”.
June 21-29, 2011
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The fact that the prime-minister survived potential impeachment was not unexpected, despite being implicated in a parliamentary investigation. If he was indeed impeached, that would have been a first in Jordan and would have probably lead to the dissolution of parliament, plunging the kingdom into serious crisis. However, the vote was very close, and one of the closest ever against a government in Jordan’s history.
The issue of opening a casino in Jordan is not only a political one, but one that has complex and deep-rooted religious and socio-economic implications. There have been attempts to open a casino in Jordan since the 1960’s, but due to severe opposition, on both religious and social grounds, successive plans never took off. The recent attempt is the one that has advanced more than any other, and not only raises the usual strong, social and religious opposition to it, but also comes with serious corruption allegations involving senior members of previous governments and regime associates.
The events of the past two weeks all contribute to exacerbating the already tense political situation. The impeachment of former minister Dabbas will only contribute to further polarizing the local tension, particularly in the town of Salt, where Dabbas is from. This is another predominantly East-Bank Jordanian town in the country, which is voicing increased criticism against the government. Although unrelated to the alleged casino scandal, the resignation of the information minister, further weakens the government’s position.
Most seriously, however, is the fact that a third of all MPs decided to boycott parliament’s next session.
In summary, the Jordanian government is the weakest it has been since it was formed, and its ability to survive beyond the summer months is questionable. There is an increased risk of increasing demonstrations against it in various towns across the country, and the King may resort to sacking it and re-appointing a new government. With growing parliamentary opposition, there is an increased risk of it being dissolved. In the absence of a national consensus on electoral reform, holding elections at this stage is premature and may lead to further political stagnation.