Jordanians went to the polls on November 8, 1989, in the first general elections in 22 years. The fairness of the elections was acknowledged internationally and domestically by both winners and losers alike, and King Hussein was given credit for the measures he had taken to secure the return of democracy to Jordan. The electoral guidelines allowed all citizens over age nineteen the right to vote. Jordanian women were allowed to vote, having first gained the franchise in 1974, and were also entitled to seek office. For the first time in the countrys history, the entire spectrum of Jordanian society participated in the legislative branch of government.
Prior to 1989, Jordans last parliamentary elections were held in April of 1967, two months prior to Israels occupation of the West Bank. Since their union in 1950, the East and West Bank had been allocated equal representation within Parliament: each had 30 representatives in the House of Deputies. The events of 1967 made free elections impossible on the West Bank, however. While the constitution specified equal balance between the two banks of the Jordan River, the situation on the ground made this impossible.
On July 29, 1988, King Hussein formally dissolved Parliament, ending West Bank representation in the legislature. Finally, on July 31 the monarch announced the severance of all administrative and legal ties with the occupied West Bank. Accordingly, electoral districts were redrawn to represent East Bank constituencies only. This disengagement decision paved the way for the resumption of true parliamentary government in the Kingdom.
His Majesty King Hussein delivered this address one month prior to the 1989 elections. In the speech, he recalls the steps which led to the resumption of parliamentary democracy in the Kingdom, and encourages Jordanians to show responsibility with their votes and avoid the mistakes of the past. He examines a number of regional problems, as well as the changing international relations in light of the end of the Cold War, and urges Arabs to adapt to changing circumstances in a realistic and balanced manner.
Address on the Eve of the General Elections
October 7, 1989
(Translated from the original Arabic)
Brothers and Sisters,
Sons and Daughters,
I extend to you my greetings and affection. I address you today as we all prepare for a new phase in the life of our Arab Jordanian people, the threshold of which will be the resumption of parliamentary democratic life. No doubt you realize that the life of nations is a series of connected phases. Each of these phases is marked by its own distinctive characteristics, different yet connected to preceding and following phases. You no doubt realize that a lively nation, which is conscious of its march, benefits from past experiences to avoid mistakes and errors. Such a nation cannot live in isolation from the rest of the world or from history. Otherwise, it would fall victim to the abyss of backwardness and oblivion, or even extinction. And it is only prudent, now that we stand at the threshold of this new era, to keep these facts in mind and to understand the nature of our situation, so that we are not overtaken by enthusiasm and deviation, to the extent that we fall down, and are not oblivious to reality.
My address to you today is one of reason to reason in its abstraction, and from the heart to the heart in its openness and warmth.
Let us start by asking ourselves the following questions:
What is the nature of the forthcoming stage, and what are its landmarks? What position does it occupy on our Jordanian historical map? What are the objective circumstances that produced this stage and gave such a distinctive character?
My reply to these questions will be the substance of my address and the disclosure of my thoughts to you today, so that we may shoulder our joint responsibilities in earnest awareness and confidence.
Many believe that we are knocking on the doors of a new era only because we are resuming our democratic parliamentary life. I see some truth to that, yet not the entire truth. Our parliamentary life was suspended for only a short period of time, but general elections have been absent throughout the past twenty years. As for the underlying causes, the facts are well known to all of you. It started when it was impossible to hold such elections after the West Bank fell under Israeli occupation in June 1967. Had it not been for that, elections would have been held in 1971 with the end of the mandate of the parliament elected in April 1967. Out of our deep concern for securing a wide popular participation under those unusual circumstances, we adopted every measure within the parameters of the constitution to substitute for a duly elected parliament. We had, for instance, legally extended the mandate of the 1967 parliament. Then at a later stage, we amended the Electoral Law to allow for the election of new members whose seats became vacant at the death of those from the West Bank, originally elected in 1967. When it became apparent that, ten years after it was elected, this parliament had lost its representative nature and was in no position to offer the people the chance to express their opinion through their representatives, we initiated the National Consultative Council, selecting its members from representatives of various sectors of society and regions, in adherence to the principles of Shura (the Islamic concept of democratic consultation in government) which we never abandoned. In spite of all that, we were convinced that the National Consultative Council could not be a substitute for a freely elected parliament. When we realized that we were about to face a constitutional problem due to the continuing difficult situation, we reinstated parliament, filling the vacant seats of the West Bank, while holding by-elections in the East Bank.
This situation continued until new circumstances arose as a result of the blessed intifada (uprising) of the Palestinian people. This became a significant factor on the international and regional political arenas, and the objective was the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. We have always believed that emphasizing the national identity of the Palestinian people on the land of Palestine was the best support we could offer to its valiant uprising against the expansionist occupation. Therefore, in response to the wishes of the PLO and the decision of Arab countries, we took the decision to sever the legal and administrative ties with the West Bank on July 31, 1988. A consequence of this decision for Jordan was the removal of impediments to holding general parliamentary elections. The electoral law was consequently amended to conform to the new situation. We are, therefore, preparing for general elections for the first time since 1967. This means, among other things, that citizens between 19 and 41 years of age will be able to exercise their democratic rights for the very first time in their lives.
But do general elections alone usher the advent of a new era, or are there other factors? It is inevitable that a general election is a major landmark of the period to come. In any case, it is the fruit of a decision we have adopted as a result of our awareness in line with our commitment to the constitution. Two other factors, however, contribute to making the coming period a fresh one indeed.
The first is the fact that the decision to hold a general election, shortly after the severing of legal and administrative ties with the West Bank in 1988, coincides with the re-evaluation process we have undertaken which was indispensable two decades after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. That period witnessed important events and developments, the most important of which was that Jordan had to face the consequences of the Israeli occupation, during which we have implemented four development plans. Our people were deeply affected by the economic boom which swept the area following the rise in oil prices, which entailed a higher cost of living, increasing consumerism and fast accumulation of personal wealth, the completion of the infrastructure, an improved health care system and the expansion of higher education. Additionally, increased contact with the wider world was established during that period, whether through the introduction of television, or through education and travel abroad. Social progress was achieved at various levels: women were granted the right to vote and run for election, the establishment of a social welfare system, and the expansion of unionized labor, social and voluntary work as well as youth activity. That period also witnessed an increased imbalance between the growing population and available resources, especially water resources. Moreover, unemployment among university graduates began to rise. In essence, those years witnessed deep socio-economic and cultural transformations, the natural outcome of which had to be a rich experience and a wealth of new values and aspirations, along with some adverse effects. All these results combined, whether negative or positive, warranted an earnest assessment. In fact, we have already embarked upon a re-assessment of our education system.
However, it was not long before we were confronted with yet another challenge, that of dealing with the financial and economic question which also required re-evaluation. If that were to mean anything, it is that the future will be a fresh one, not only due to the resumption of democratic parliamentary life, but also as a result of the responsibilities we are going to have to shoulder together. The new parliament would not be, as some tend to believe, a mere platform for political statements. It would rather be a national institution through which we all participate to crystallize national policies in all aspects: in industry, commerce, agriculture, tourism, education and culture, human resources and services, water, energy and population. The responsibilities dictated by objective developments around us also make the coming period a crisp one. That is the first factor which is an endogenous one, in its dimensions and elements, as you are well aware.
The second factor relates to the objective circumstances and developments at the regional and international levels, many of which have direct and indirect bearings on the Jordanian national arena.
At the regional level, there are still three conflicts awaiting a solution:
The Iran-Iraq conflict, which is presently frozen by the cease-fire. Although no progress has been achieved a year after it was agreed due to the regrettable maneuvering and stalling of the Iranian leadership, which casts doubt over its real intentions in the Gulf region. This only leaves the area on alert and guard, which hinders the process of reconstruction within the framework of peace and good neighborly relations.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, with its core, the Palestinian problem, is still raging between the enduring and struggling Palestinian people, through its valiant uprising, and the Israeli occupation, which keeps hindering peace efforts through its vaunted stubbornness in fear of an equitable peace. Under such circumstances, we still hear and read about Zionist designs and schemes claiming Jordan as an alternative homeland to the Palestinians. At the same time, we sense efforts to marginalize Jordan and limit its role and effectiveness as part of the enemy's strategy to decapitate the Arab forces in the confrontation. This prompts us to expect a new disaster to force us to abdicate our legitimate demands, as has often happened. Our awareness, steadfastness and cooperation, as Jordanians and Arabs, is the only means to foil the enemy's schemes. Our anxiety of these designs is even more justified by our lack of awareness of such schemes and our inability to act accordingly.
The Lebanese conflict with its complications have given rise to, among other things, an Islamic-Christian conflict. The conflict, which was initially contrived and soon deepened with the intervention of external non-Arab forces, prompts one to believe that our nation is facing new hostile attempts to divide it on confessional and religious grounds. This constitutes an unsurpassed and serious danger to our national security, merely because it emanates from within. The means to achieve this was as malicious as the objective itself: through the exploitation of religion for political ends and as a means to reach power, and a tool of foreign policy; or as a means for certain countries to implement certain designs and plots, through the recruitment of a small number of simple-minded religious individuals, and of others who seek wealth and power, training them to kill and sabotage, committing the worst and most horrendous of deeds which violate the simplest of religious principles and values: from murdering innocent people to hostage-taking and bombings in the Holy Ka'bah, and the killing of pilgrims during the sacred month, among other such acts.
What is most distressing is that it is all committed in the name of religion, which is innocent of these crimes. The terror committed has surpassed Israeli atrocities and its daily oppressive measures against the defenseless Palestinian people struggling for their legitimate human and national rights. Their deviation and malice has reached such levels that their acts have become despicable to the faithful who are responsible for defending the true values and principles of Islam against the distortions of those with certain ends. And yet another group has chosen to concern itself, day and night, with archaic side issues, such as the woman as a physical entity, rather than as a mother, sister, and a daughter, or as a capable human being, forgetting that Islam is the religion of values that suppresses animal instincts in the human being, be it man or woman alike, and that Islam was the religion of hard work and productivity which does not permit the incapacitation of half the society or forgive a condescending look at our mothers, sisters and daughters.
Our religion, dear brothers, is one of forgiveness and moderation: "Thus have We made of you an Ummah justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves."
Islam is the religion of dialogue: "And argue with them in ways that are best."
It is also the religion of the respect of the human entity: "That if anyone slew a personunless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the landit would as if he slew the whole people; and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of a whole people."
And the religion of compassion: "We sent thee not, but as a mercy for all creatures."
And also good manners: "Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away about thee;" "And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character."
With attempts to exploit religion for political purposes and their repercussions on Lebanon, in the form of warring organizations, militias and parties, we should be very cautious as to what is intended to be portrayed or become a Christian-Islamic strife in Lebanon. This is actually meant to divide the Arabs from within and influence the future of the Holy City of Jerusalem in a way detrimental to Arab rights and Arab interests, through taking advantage of what is happening in Lebanon as a pretext to devoid the Omari pact of its meaning. This pact defined Christian-Muslim relationships and enabled both sides to coexist as one Arab people with common aspirations and work toward the same goals throughout the centuries. But what is taking place around us and in our midst is serious and of greater magnitude and calls for alertness and more attention to forestall what is being planned for us and our Holy City. That is why we support the efforts of the Tripartite Committee and wish it every success in its task, and call upon all parties to cooperate with it to save themselves and our nation from falling into the trap that has been set for us by our enemies.
At the international level, it is time for all of us to realize that earlier East-West confrontation has been transformed into cooperation, and the policy of depending on one camp rather than another has become a meaningless one. Developments confirm what we had been cautioning against. As a result of the change at the international level, big powers are concentrating more on their own problems and are deploying international efforts to fend off dangers that threaten life on this globe, to save it from destruction, veering upon it from both the threats of weapons of mass destruction, which have been developed by man and accumulated by states, or from man's degradation of the ecological system upon which we survive. The new set of priorities has forced the world to concentrate more on resolving international and regional issues which have resulted in the squandering of too many nations resources. Undoubtedly, this trend will catch up with us some time soon and we must be ready lest it could be effected at our expense, we Arabs, if we did not pay attention to what is taking place around us or as a result of us being enmeshed in our own disagreements and trivial matters. These are the regional and international circumstances through which we are living.
They place upon us special responsibilities since through the new challenges they project, a new era is ushered.
Beyond and above all that has been said, the Arab Cooperation Council is a result of our commitment to pan-Arabism, which has been the fruit of joint efforts by Arab brethren in Egypt, Iraq and North Yemen. It is an expression of our common vision on the importance of Arab economic integration and of our awareness of the link between the issue of progress on one hand, and pan-Arab security and unity on the other. It is associated with our deep conviction that the survival of this (Arab) nation, and its resurgence, as well as the assumption of its rightful place among other nations, is closely linked to its comprehensive unity. For the Arab nation to be capable of contributing and taking the initiative rather than being at the receiving end of events, and to participate rather than react, it should be acting as one, deserving of its national heritage, and its proud glories, through the resumption of constructive contribution and participation in the progress of humanity as one cohesive nation.
To realize its objectives and fulfill its goals, the Arab Cooperation Council requires a unified vision, a unified conviction and common efforts from all citizens and officials regardless of their places. In consonance with this, and to enable greater interaction among the representatives of the peoples of the ACC, it is about to establish a parliamentary committee, to initially coordinate among its members, then to function as an institutional framework into which hopes, views and expertise can be expressed. We do this out of the conviction that economic integration and collective action on the road to a practical formula for the much-cherished Arab unity requires genuine popular participation from the bottom up.
Therefore, what we hope for, as we are undertaking this responsibility toward ourselves and toward future generations, is that the new lower house, which you will elect, will measure up to the pan-Arab task that we, together with our brothers in the ACC, are determined to shoulder in fulfillment of our peoples' aspirations, utilizing the lessons derived from past experiences and the experiences of others in this regard.
The aforementioned reasons and considerations, whether at the national, pan-Arab, or international levels, make the coming period a truly fresh one. We will not satisfy ourselves with the deliberations associated with the receiving of the new comer, as any new thing would soon become familiar and lose its novelty. Only what is beneficial to people does not lose its luster. Let us make the next era a fruitful and effective one through parliamentary democracy, which ensures real and intelligent involvement; an era which derives its effectiveness from responsible and well reasoned dialogue, from balanced intellect and moderate views, and from the ability to distinguish that which is possible from what is illusionary, the genuine from the unreal, the national interest rather than the narrow personal or partisan interest, and to verify slogans which soothe the emotions but have little chance of implementation. Let us hope that we become fully aware of the serious national and pan-Arab responsibility as the point of departure. This ability to differentiate is the guarantee for the election of a lower house which is capable of pushing forward true democracy based on institutional participation. Let us always remember that our homeland needs people who would tackle its problems and concerns in a rational and realistic fashion as well as in a creative and balanced way, and not those who would take it to the level of dreams and unrealistic imagination in a world of illusions and sloganism.
The success of the experience is in your own hands. It is a trust in you as both electorate and candidates. And I cannot imagine that any of you would wish it to fail due to extremism and confusion. Nothing matches my commitment for the constitutionality of my rule except my concern for your and the country's interest, as well as that of our Arab nation, in addition to the welfare of future generations. Nobody except Almighty God can claim eternity. Let us not forget that the challenges ahead of us are immense and huge and demand every honest effort to deal with them. There are challenges which are connected to our own existence and our future, as well as the future of our nation and its security. Let us not forget that our experiences have taught us one fundamental lessonthat our homeland's principled position as well as its steadfastness are targeted. When we re-examine the past with its positive and its negative aspects, we are fully satisfied with our accomplishments and regret some of the mishaps. If there were mistakes that occurred here and there, our solace was in the fact that our successes surpass, and are great, compared with our limited capabilities. Mistakes have pointed to some of the shortcomings that needed to be addressed. We will not allow yesterday's cloudiness to lessen tomorrow's brightness. Yet we are aware that we would not be able to face much of the challenges as we did, had we accepted blackmail or succumbed to any temptation.
We have lived as one family whose relations were characterized by mutual respect, which will be tested during the election campaign, as candidates compete against each other to win. It is this mutual respect and affection which combine us together, as well as the values and ethics which we have always upheld, which are the cornerstones of honorable and proper participation. I am confident that the candidates will avoid negative campaigning and animosities that would result in mutual accusations, libel and slander. They will rise above improprieties and indecent language. The means to public office must be as noble as the goal associated with it. Its subject should be the country's concerns and aspirations. Its content must be the most sound. Candidates should put forward effective and appropriate programs whose aim is to solve problems rather than complicate them, to tackle issues at the national level as well as the broader pan-Arab level. This will enable us to continue our march, with God's help, within the context of cooperation and understanding, which are the backbone of our family, as well as the firm thread from which we weaved our national unity that we hold as sacred, and for which we are ready to sacrifice our lives.
I call upon you all, voters as well as candidates, to live up to the expectations and rise to the responsibility dictated by the challenges which I outlined and which I am sure you are well aware of. The candidate is duty-bound to be honest in his approach and views and the voter has a national duty to go out and elect the person whom he/she believes is capable of representing his/her interests and those of the country in the best way. For he/she who votes not on the basis of his/her convictions compromises his/her conscience and who does that betrays the nation and the country. And I never thought for a moment that you could be but persons with good conscience. I trust your awareness, purity, wisdom, honesty and your good judgment, in addition to your national commitment. And I also trust your commitment to the constitution and to fulfill your obligations in the most honorable and sincere fashion.
Therefore, I am sure that we will overcome the new phase full of hope for the future and confident in our capability of solving our problems, addressing our concerns and pursuing the march. We are determined to see this experience succeed and to make the coming period one of serious work and accomplishments at both the national level and the wider Arab one.
I ask God Almighty to grant you success and support, to the voters and to the new members of Parliament, and pray that He gives us the energy and power to shoulder our responsibility and carry out the duty together.
Peace be upon you, God's mercy, and his blessings.
Address on the eve of the General Election
October 7, 1989