The Museum of Parliamentary Life is a small museum, especially when you consider that most of the space is taken up by the former legislative chamber, offices for the head of the Senate and the speaker of Parliament, and the reception hall. I have walked by it often, and usually there are school buses there. After the new Parliament Building was finished, this building drifted a while. In 2010, however, the museum was organized to teach students and other visitors about the establishment and progression of independent government in Jordan.
King Abdullah I Bin al-Hussein declared independence from this place, establishing the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on May 25, 1946. From 1947 until 1978, it was used for the National Assembly meetings, and it was where King Tala Bin Abdullah and King Hussein Bin Talal took their oaths of office. (“Bin” means “son of.”)
The displays in the museum portion illustrate the history well, and it is worth the visit if you are in Jordan and want to understand more about Jordan’s evolution.
Jordan’s government is based on a Constitution adopted in 1952. The King remains very powerful, but the government has evolved, and some changes were made in 2011 during the Arab Spring movement. The King has supported these changes.
There are three branches of government in Jordan: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The King is the Head of State, Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and retains the power to veto laws, among others. The King appoints the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government and the head of security directorate. (I haven’t found a definition for the security directorate yet.) The PM works with the Cabinet to form policies and laws for the improvement of the country. The King used to appoint the Cabinet Ministers, but they are directly elected by the people since 2011.
The Legislative Branch is called the “Majlis al-Umma,” and is made up of two branches, the Chamber of Deputies and the Assembly of Senators. The Chamber of Deputies has 130 members and is directly elected by the citizens to a 4-year term. Fifteen of the seats are reserved for women, and these seats are elected by a Special Electoral College. Nine seats are reserved for Christians and three for Circassians. The Chamber of Deputies can approve, reject, or amend legislation, but does not initiate laws. The Assembly of Senators has 65 members who are appointed by the King to a 4-year term.
The importance of the Chamber of Deputies is that the Assembly of Senators or the Cabinet Ministers or both can be dismissed by a two-thirds vote by the Deputies.
Although Jordan is peaceful now, it has been a sometimes bumpy road. King Abdullah I was assassinated in 1951 by Palestinian guerrillas who viewed his annexation of the West Bank as cooperation with European powers in carving up Palestine. There was the “Black September” civil war in 1970, when thousands were killed in an uprising. There were protests in 2010 and 2011 during the Arab Spring uprisings in the area. And in September 2013, one representative in the Chamber of Deputies tried to shoot a colleague with his assault rifle while on the Parliamentary premises.
None of this was evident when I visited the Jordanian Parliament, in my next post.