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Jordan mulls constitutional reform to weaken king, boost protections

By the CNN Wire Staff
A young Jordanian parades with a portrait of King Abdullah II during a pro-government demonstration in Amman on April 1, 2011.
A young Jordanian parades with a portrait of King Abdullah II during a pro-government demonstration in Amman on April 1, 2011.
  • A Jordanian panel submits a list of recommended changes to the constitution
  • King Abdullah II lauds the plan, saying it promotes "freedom, unity and equality"
  • The changes must go through the "constitutional process" to become law

(CNN) -- Jordanian authorities took a key step Sunday toward enacting sweeping changes to the country's constitution, initiatives that would decrease the king's authority, reinforce the separation of powers and bolster civil rights.

King Abdullah II, after the final slate of proposed changes was turned in Sunday, called the process "solid proof of Jordan's ability to revitalize itself and its legislation and approach the future with a vision of social and political reform."

"Today, we present Jordanians -- both our present and future generations -- with these historic constitutional revisions and amendments," the king said. "(The proposals) reflect the high level of political and legal maturity among Jordanians, who are bracing for the centennial of their state -- a state that was built on the values of freedom, unity and equality."

Two months earlier, Abdullah gave a landmark speech pledging extensive reforms that political observers saw as movement toward a constitutional monarchy that would loosen his grip on the government and offer citizens greater opportunities and safeguards.

While backed by the king, the proposed constitutional changes are not yet law. Abdullah noted they first must go through the "appropriate constitutional process" and be considered by the legislature, which he said he hopes will occur within the next month.

Like other nations in the Middle East and the Arab world, Jordan has been the site of numerous protests in recent months by mostly young people demanding government action. Its economy has been hit hard by the global economic downturn and rising commodity prices, and youth unemployment is high.

In addition to calling for reform, the king earlier this year swore in a new government that is headed by a former general and contains opposition and media figures among its ranks.

Changing the constitution was a major part of the king's reform initiative. Ahmad Lozi, who headed up the royal constitutional reform committee, said the group tried to use a "rational and objective," rather than an "emotional," approach in pursuit of its mission.

"The aim was to ... ensure a mature and conscious response to the requirements of a better future," Lozi said. "We ... hope that what we have achieved will serve the country and the throne."

The proposals include many affecting what it stressed will be an "independent" judicial system, including the creation of a constitutional court, having civilians be tried in civil courts and having government ministers be tried in high civil courts.

In addition, an independent commission would be set up to oversee elections and any electoral challenges would be made in civil courts. Another change would lower the minimum age for legislators to 25.

There are several new restrictions on which laws the executive power, led by the king, can unilaterally implement -- with any changes now only happening "in times of war and natural catastrophes," according to the king.

Among other proposed changes, newspapers could only be stopped from publishing "by a judicial order," the national assembly would approve treaties and, if the "lower house" of parliament is dissolved, an exception that in the past permitted the king to postpone the holding of general elections would go away. And in his speech, Abdullah noted that dissolution of the "lower house" could now be tied to the resignation of the government.

The recommendations also reinforce civil rights in Jordan. One amendment, for example, states: "Any infringement on the rights and public freedoms or sanctity of private life of Jordanians is a crime punishable by law" -- which is in addition to the existing language that "personal freedom shall be guaranteed."