Jordanian Ambassador Alia Bouran: On the path to greater democracy

The world was watching last week as my country, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, marked a significant milestone in democratic reform with an historic election for Parliament. With more independent election monitors from around the world, a record number of candidates (and women candidates), the test came on the day itself, when almost 57 percent of registered voters cast their ballots. Now, that day is behind us and we move on to the next — continuing the hard work of the past decade focusing on our principles of reform, including democratization, respect for human and civil rights, the rule of law and economic liberalization based on the free-market economy.

We move forward because elections alone do not make a democracy. Real reform is not about changing a law or regulation; it is an evolution in how citizens, government and Parliament collectively make public decisions affecting the country’s future.

First drafted 90 years ago, the basis for this decision-making is the Constitution. It is also, as His Majesty King Abdullah II has said, the foundation upon which our laws and institutions must continue to evolve and develop. We value this solid foundation because crafting a modern democratic society will be a product of continuous learning, and applying that lesson over a period of time. 

In this spirit, over the past two years, Jordan’s constitution has undergone the most robust set of reforms in my country’s history. We now have a constitutional court as a result of this process, and the Jan. 23 elections were directed and managed by an independent body, the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which yielded a far different process than we had seen before. As His Majesty King Abdullah II noted in a letter to the citizens of Jordan this week, “this commission ... has marked a turning point in the history of elections management and oversight. IEC staff worked around the clock, driven by their belief that their mission could not have been aptly accomplished without giving their country a success story by running fair, free and transparent elections.”

As we form a government in the coming weeks, the members of Parliament, prime minister and the Cabinet will all contribute to administrative oversight and political accountability. The constitutional reforms will come to life as we witness enhanced separation of powers, the checks and balances of the governance system, the independence of the judiciary and the ongoing protection of the inalienable rights of all of our citizens, including minorities, as we have always done.

Reform is the work of Jordanian citizens, but Jordan does not live in isolation of the developments in the Middle East. Every day, thousands of desperate Syrians are crossing into Jordan, fleeing the conflict in their country — a truly heartbreaking situation. Their needs are urgent and are placing a strain on Jordan that is well beyond our economic capability. The international community’s financial support is needed now, and in the months ahead, to help the hundreds of thousands of Syrians now living in Jordan, a population likely to grow as the conflict persists.

An important pillar of our reform effort is economic liberalization and the formation of a vibrant, free-market economy. In tandem with our political advancements, Jordanians are embracing entrepreneurship and leading in the knowledge economy. Just this past week, His Majesty King Abdullah II noted at the World Economic Forum, “Success in [the Middle East] cannot afford to wait. Businesses and investors that get in now will lead — and send a powerful message to future consumers and leaders: we are with you, on the ground, building the future.”

We are pleased that new and longstanding global and regional partnerships are in place to help businesses do just that — build the future. In 2001, Jordan signed a free-trade agreement with the U.S., as well as similar deals with Singapore and Canada. This is in addition to Jordan’s membership in the World Trade Organization and a number of regional and international trade pacts. We are also building the future by addressing 21st century needs in the water, energy and transportation sectors, with visionary investment projects including the Disi pipeline, expansion of Aqaba port facilities and the new airport highway in Amman. 

As contributors to the knowledge economy, our people are also key to building our future. Jordan is yielding the benefit of a long history of investment in education as our universities grant more diplomas in technological fields than any other country in our region. Jordan also has the most engineers per capita than any other country in the world. Our assets are many, and Jordan stands tall as a prime partner for investment.

Jordan’s continuation down the path toward reform highlights our nation’s determination and perseverance. All of these changes and milestones are necessary for any emerging democracy and a clear sign of its credibility and authenticity. Jordan remains strong and stable, and will continue advancing democracy and reforms as a responsible member of the international society.

Bouran is ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States of America.