As Jordan gears up for the January 23 legislative election, streets and roundabouts were filled with banners portraying the smiling or stern faces of parliament hopefuls, but experts expressed reservations about the capability of the next parliament to bring about the sought-after change.
Analysts expect the 17th parliament to be a copy of the controversial 16th chamber, with few new faces.
However, analysts and political party leaders expressed confidence that Jordan is not on the brink of political turmoil but agreed that both the government and opposition powers have failed to "seize the historic moment" brought about by the Arab Spring.
Authorities in the Kingdom have set January 23 to be the date for early legislative election out of which a parliamentary government is expected to emerge.
Despite calls by opposition powers, mainly the Islamists, to revisit the 2012 election law, King Abdullah has kept affirming that the legislative polls will be held on schedule, urging would-be candidates and voters to participate actively in the process.
Opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamic Action Front, have been calling for revisiting the 2012 election law, claiming that it reinstated the controversial one-person, one-vote system, on the basis of which the 2010 elections were conducted.
With their calls unheeded, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Kingdom's largest opposition group, and other opposition forces decided to boycott the polls in protest against the election law which they claimed to be the direct cause of the country's political weakness and social instability.
In a recent interview with the Kingdom's largest Arabic newspaper Al Rai and its only English daily The Jordan Times, the King reiterated that the January 23 elections and the upcoming parliamentary government were not the final destination in the reform process, saying that "there is no final destination on the reform path. Reform is a process."
Interviewed by Al Arabiya English, political analyst Mohammed Abu Rumman and Social Leftist Movement leader Khaled Kalaldeh explained that, except for some formalities, the next parliament will be incapable of bringing about any tangible change.
They said there was an 80 to 90 per cent chance it would be similar to the 16th House, whose members were the target of criticism of opposition forces and public movements.
Except for the national lists stipulated in the new election law, the presence of the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) and the promises of a parliamentary government, Abu Rumman argued that the elections will bring the same incompetent deputies of the last parliament to power.
For the first time in Jordan's history, the election will be overseen by an independent commission — the IEC, which was created in line with a provision added to the Constitution last year.
Under the new election law, each voter will be given two votes: one for a candidate at the district level and another for a closed proportional list that will compete for 27 seats at the national level.
Several opposition powers have called for raising the number of seats allocated for the closed proportional list to be at least 50 per cent of the total 150 Lower House seats.
"Citizens' difficult economic conditions and their growing distrust in the abilities of MPs to make any progress, coupled with the boycott atmosphere prevailing the country and the poorly worded election law will certainly sully the image of the election and weaken people's participation," Abu Rumman said.
In addition to the Islamists' and leftists' decision to boycott the election, he indicated that the absence of Jordan's heavy-weighted figures and statesmen from the scene has its strong impact on people's enthusiasm to take part in the polls.
"The second day after the election is authorities' most worrying concern. What would the decision maker do if people demand that the newly-elected parliament be dissolved just one day after the polls?" Abu Rumman wondered.
On the pledges for a parliamentary government, the Al Ghad daily's columnist explained that a parliament elected on the basis of an election law that gives prominence to individualized and fragmented deputies at the expense of organized and diversified political powers is technically incapable of producing a fully-fledged government.
"In politics, a parliamentary government is formed by a political party or a coalition of political parties gaining the majority of seats in a parliament but in the case of Jordan, a 27-seat list is technically incapable of doing so as it will be rivaled by the remaining 123 deputies," Abu Rumman added.
Even if the 123 MPs decide to form blocs and then elect a government, he argued, their efforts will be "fragmented and unpromising" as they have no partisan experience and are merely chosen on the basis of geographical and tribal considerations.
"Parliamentary governments are formed by heterogeneous political parties and they cannot be in any way the product of individualized actors."
"Regrettably, Jordan's government and its opposition powers have failed to seize the historic movement brought on by the Arab Spring," Abu Rumman said, adding that "political parties, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, and public movements have been confined to certain demands and discourse alien to the Kingdom's distinctiveness and authorities have bet on the failure of the Arab Spring."
He also explained that members of the next parliament, empowered by their legitimacy as deputies elected on fair and transparent election guaranteed by the IEC, may act with more confidence but whatever they do will be "insufficient and unsatisfactory" as the rules of the political game in Jordan remain unchanged.
"Decision makers in Jordan and other Arab states have not realized yet that the political formulas and the security discourse that long prevailed are no longer accepted by the public who are becoming more and more determined to be involved in their countries' decision-making processes," Abu Rumman said.
Since the beginning of protests and popular demands in Jordan some two years ago, officials have been saying that economic woes are Jordanians' major concerns and those who chanted slogans demanding more political and even constitutional changes were just a minority, trying to take advantage of the atmosphere of freedom created by the Arab Spring and authorities' peaceful approach to demonstrations.
"It is not in the interest of governments to promote that people's major demands are economic as they do not have solutions for them," Abu Rumman said, adding that "the problem in Jordan and in several Arab countries is that their governments do not have political legitimacy."
However, Abu Rumman expected the situation in Jordan to remain in safe levels despite its political dilemma, saying that "Jordanians seeing violence and unrest sweeping Syria and Egypt are not willing to sacrifice their country's security and stability."
The same remarks were expressed by Khalaldeh who also cast doubt on the capability of the next deputies to bring about the envisioned reforms, citing the election law which, he said, is in the service of tribal candidates and at the expense of political parties.
Kalaldeh explained that the absence of political powers from the next elections due to the disappointing 2012 election law and people's long-unsolved economic troubles have had their negative impact on citizens' enthusiasm to participate in the polls.
Decision makers believe that parliamentary election is the ultimate goal of the reform process whereas it is the beginning, Kalaldeh said, echoing Abu Rumman's remarks that the next deputies will be the same as their predecessors.
Unlike Abu Rumman, Khalaldeh believes that economy is Jordan's major challenge, saying that the main cause for Jordanians’ anger was the economic situation that deteriorated by the liberalization and privatization policies.
Jordanians have become weary of the unprecedented levels in rising living costs, unemployment, economic inequality and corruption in their country, the leftist leader said, adding that these results were caused by politicians who are still in power.
"Unfortunately, policy makers and the ruling elites have not made any compromises since the beginning of the Arab Spring, still determined to handle the state affairs in the same way and unaware of the growing discontent of the mature public," Kalaldeh said.
Kalaldeh also said that real political reforms are the remedy for Jordan’s economic crisis, but he charged that influential elites were fighting against real reform because it would jeopardize their interests.
For Kalaldeh, King Abdullah and the Royal family are a point of consensus for the country, saying that calls of political parties and public movements have centered on reforming the regime and not its downfall.
“No political party or group has adopted slogans that call for the downfall of the regime,” he said, indicating that such slogans were raised by a minority of angry youth.
"All in all, Jordan will not drift into violence and unrest and is far from being the next target for the Arab Spring," Kalaldeh concluded.
Muslim Brotherhood Spokesperson Murad Adayleh said in a recent interview with The Jordan Times that the Islamist movement believes the King is the consensus figure for all Jordanians.
“What we want is to reform the regime, as the country’s stability is of the utmost importance to all opposition groups, particularly since we live in a turbulent region."
(Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist and a commentator on local and regional political affairs.)