Jordan’s first democratic institutions, were established before the country’s independence under the mandate rule. A semi-constitutional organic law was in place in 1928 and indirect elections were held for a Legislative Council with limited powers as early as 1929. Most of the demands by the legislature and political parties focused on independence and development concerns. The Kingdom’s post independence constitution in 1946, allowed for direct elections to a Lower House of Parliament and a Senate filled by appointment, with vested authority in King Abdullah I. However, the 1946 constitution did not rise to nationalist expectations since it did not establish government responsibility to the legislature and gave the King the complete power to conclude treaties with foreign powers (at issue was the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty).
A more liberal constitution; promulgated in 1952, increased political freedoms and participation levels. The 1952 constitution declared the nation as the source of all powers (art.24) with executive power vested with the King (art.25) and legislative power vested with the elected legislature (art.26), which was empowered to force the resignation of the cabinet through a vote of no-confidence (art.53). The King was empowered to appoint and dismiss cabinets and members of the senate, dissolve parliament and call for new elections, declare martial law and rule by decree in times of emergency.
The radicalization of leftist-leaning parties in the Arab world in general during the 1950s highlighted the blurred concept of nation as opposed to state in domestic politics. In this respect, political parties did not necessarily believe in the legitimacy of the state, but advocated instead a pan-Arab national project that threatened the structure of the state.
The vulnerability of political parties to external influence and anti-monarchical ideologies including Nasserism, Ba’athism and Communism, constituted a major blow to the participatory institutions. Moreover, the devastated and frustrated refugee population became vulnerable to radical party ideology.
This situation resulted in a temporary imposition of emergency laws and a ban on all political parties in Jordan after a coup attempt in 1957. Although Parliament was reconvened after 19 months of martial law, the ban on political parties remained in effect for more than three decades. The state of emergency was declared at the outset of the 1967 War and the martial law continued until 1989.
Parliamentary life remained in limbo between 1967-1989 as elections could not be held on the West Bank in view of the Israeli occupation and the political role acquired by the PLO over Palestinians in the occupied territories after the Rabat Arab Summit in 1974. Jordan faced a dual dilemma in this regard. Holding elections while the West Bank was under occupation was not possible and holding elections for the East Bank only would be tantamount to relinquishing claims of sovereignty over the occupied territory.
Although By-elections were held on the East Bank in 1984 and 1986 for vacant seats in Parliament, after art. 73 of the Constitution was amended to allow for elections to be held in half of the Kingdom’s constituencies despite continued Israeli occupation, parties continued to be banned and stringent restrictions remained on press freedoms and political opposition.
Significantly, Jordan did not witness systematic repression and organized terror by the state common to many Third World states during the above period. King Hussein was particularly distinguished in this respect by his remarkable capability to recycle opponents back into the system as active proponents of the regime, never allowing the execution of a single conspirator throughout his 47-year reign. This is particularly underlined by the amnesty law of 1963 and 1965, which pardoned those involved in the coup attempts of the 1950s.
Professional syndicates became active political entities in the absence of parties, while the moderate Muslim Brotherhood gained strength operating as a social and religious institution. Professional syndicates have around 80 thousand members distributed along 14 unions that include the bulk of Jordan’s intellectuals and university graduates. The union’s leaders, who are democratically elected, have been actively engaged in politics, particularly in anti-normalization efforts with Israel in recent years.
To avoid the pitfalls of the 1950s and the vulnerability of political parties to external intrusion when the decision to resume political liberalization was taken in 1989, an organizing consensus was established for Jordan’s political liberalization through a National Charter drawn by a Royal Commission comprised of 60 members from all walks of Jordan’s socio-political life in 1990. The significant rules the National Charter established concerned the re-introduction of political parties into Jordan’s domestic politics. These rules touched upon aspects that ensure party insulation from foreign subservience and manipulation, as well as the army’s insulation from party politics.