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Bakhit's government on a string.

By Muna Awwad

Many recent aspects have raised a series of question marks on the fate of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit's government; starting with the Refinery corruption case convict Khaled Shahin walking out of jail and flying out of the country to the UK, under the pretext of urgent medical treatment; to resignations of some

government ministers over the Shahin issue with the Premier's announcement that the investigations have exonerated any government official of wrong doing in the said case; the resignation of Minister of Media & Communications Affairs / Government Spokesperson Taher Odwan; to the start of direct confrontation between Government and Parliament; and ending in the return of street calls for the government to resign.

"In protest against referring draft legislations that limit media freedoms to the Lower House in its extraordinary session, I submitted by resignation, and it's final from my side although a Royal Decree to accept it is not issued yet; the Press & Publications Law, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Law and the Penal Code which are proposed for deliberations in the Lower House will hinder the reform process if endorsed by lawmakers; the majority of the Cabinet was actually against including the amendments on the Press & Publications Law on the extraordinary session's agenda, but there were powers within or outside the government pushing for discussing the draft amendments in Parliament; and we were surprised when they were referred.

When I first joined the Government team, I vowed not to be part of a government that would refer any laws against press freedom to Parliament; and for this reason I resigned," Odwan told The Star.

Political analyst Oraib Rintawi commented on the resignation saying, "Odwan's resignation is an exceptional case; its timing and indications reveal the truth about the government's real intention towards press freedoms and reform; this is the third minister to resign due to the failure of fighting corruption or defending freedoms; how can we trust the outcomes of the national dialogue committee, and the constitutional amendments and the reform process as a whole, after what had been revealed by Odwan? Is it possible for a government that acts behind the backs of its ministers to be able to conduct free elections? Or be a government of reform and freedoms?"

Odwan's resignation was the third resignation of a minister from Bakhit's Government after the ministers of health and justice resigned on the background of investigations in Shahin's corruption case.

Bakhit personally vowed to reveal the truth about Shahin's travel and to punish the officials who were responsible for his escape.

However, on June 18, Bakhit surprised the people with announcements on the outcomes of the investigations, saying, "After investigating with a number of doctors involved in Shahin's travel, we found that 11 doctors stand responsible for his travel, after they signed a medical report saying he is suffering from a dangerous health condition and he is urgently in need for treatment outside Jordan."

Bakhit stated that the ACC report showed that no government official was involved in the facilitation of Shahin's travel."

To make its story complete, the Prime Ministry published the full medical report of Shahin on its official website, which was considered a violation of the law of investigation and to the medical constitution by publicly announcing a medical status of a patient.

Lawyer and President of Arab Legal Group, Yunes Arab, said, "Legally, investigation documents should not be published before the end of the investigation process; gaining the popularity of the people is not a justification to reveal legal documents to the public during investigations."

Dr Mahmoud Harzallah, said, "The Jordanian medical constitution does not allow revealing secrets of patients; the documents should be in front of court and not in front of the public; I don't understand how the government considered Shaheen's case any different."

For its part, the medical sector expressed its resentment with the outcome of the investigation.

President of Jordan Medical Association, Dr Ahmad Armouti refused the attempt to lay the blame on the medical profession; he told The Star, "The government had many options before Shahin's departure; the doctors only give their consultative opinion on the medical situation; the government could have referred Shahin to the Jordanian medical services before facilitating his travel; our association trusts its members; whoever allowed the departure of Shahin bears the full responsibly and not those who gave their medical opinion."

In another context, the extraordinary session of the 16th Parliament started on June 22, with MP Abdullah Nsour, calling for the rejection of the ACC Law while MP Abdul-Qader Habashneh, said, "The lower house will be keen to summon Odwan to listen to what he has to say on the reasons for his resignation."

For her part, MP Abla Abu-Olba, secretary-general of the Jordanian Democratic People's Party, said, "The government faces many challenges in parliament over ministerial resignations, reform, living conditions and unemployment, which is very worrying, not to mention corruption, which is much bigger than just Shaheen's case; this government's survival is linked to its speed in reform."

In light of the current political situation in Jordan, many analysts believe that the government will depart soon as it had failed on its reform promises and its fight against corruption.

Chief Editor of al-Arab al-Yawm daily, Fahed Khitan, said, "The government is subject to some interferences, of which it is too weak to confront; for this reason it is now collapsing; and it bears the responsibility of the mismanagement that had lead to many crisis; such as how it dealt with the Interior Circle events, and attacking the protesters in the Right of Return gathering, in addition to the attacks committed against journalists; the departure of the government is getting closer as there are deliberations on more resignations; furthermore, the government and the Lower House are at loggerheads which would lead to the dissolution of either of the two authorities."

Head of the Political Bureau of the Islamic Action Front Pparty, Zaki Bani Irsheid, said to The Star, "Since the beginning we said that Bakhit is not a reformist and the days have proved that he does not have the ability to achieve reform; and we can see how his government had not presented any achievements but rather got involved into corruption cases; we are in need of a national salvation government."

Economic analyst at al-Ghad daily Jumana Ghuneimat said, "This government was not able to absorb the street anger that had caused the departure of the previous government; it is dealing with the people in a traditional way that had not coped with the modern way of thinking of the people, who have raised their level of freedoms and level of demands due to the regional situation; that's why the gap between this traditional government and the people has widened."

Academic Hassan Barari, for his part, said, "The government's mismanagement led to a crisis of trust between it and the people; it is time to review the mechanism of forming governments rather than reviewing the figures themselves."

Professor Rula Huroub said "the government's achievements were very weak; the teachers association, for example of an achievement, still faces some reservations by teachers; the salary restructuring plan did not include the employees who get very high salaries and rather affected the rights of many employees; the outcomes of the national dialogue committee, which is considered one of the major achievements of this government, did not fulfill the expectations and ambitions of the stage."

President of Jordanian Engineers Association, Abdullah Obeidat, told The star, "The government is betting on the membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council but this will not cover all its mistakes; the major failure of Bakhit's government was the latest general amnesty which did not include many of the ideological prisoners, although the amnesty was an opportunity to absorb the street anger; Bakhit should have resigned when the people of Tafeelah refused to receive him."

Spokesperson of the Professionals for Reform Movement, Maysara Malas, said, "The letter of resignation written by Odwan was clear saying that there are hidden sides seeking to suppress freedoms and limit the works of websites in order to punish all those who talk about corruption instead of trying those who are involved in corruption."

Last Friday witnessed the widest protest movement in the streets of all Jordanian governorates since the start of the reform promises, which were meant to absorb the street anger; it seems the project of silencing the people failed to trick the people, as the major slogan of protesters have become a demand for the departure of Bakhit's government.

Haytham Shamaileh, a protester from Karak, told The Star, "People have changed; listening to promises without actions does not work anymore; the wall of fear has crumbled and people feel that they are able to demand their rights out loud; since we started our protests for reform and against corruption, we were following up the government's steps; and we have given it time over the past few weeks to work seriously on achieving reform; but now, after what we've seen, we will not stay still; we want the departure of Bakhit's government."

Ad-Dustour daily columnist Helmi Asmar commented, "The slow-step reform of the government does not meet the fast and extensive directives of HM King Abdullah II, which will cause the street anger to increase; Bakhit's government does not have measure on how to gauge the wishes of the Jordanian people; it has failed to convince the people of its achievements.

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Jun 27, 2011
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