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Kalashnikov democracy in Jordan

The incident of a parliamentarian trying to gun down a fellow lawmaker in the House after an argument casts a shadow on Jordan’s politics

Gulf News

It is being described as a cowboy shootout last Tuesday in Jordan’s House of Deputies that has marred political life in the kingdom. Almost everyone is talking about what is being cynically described as the ‘Kalashnikov deputy’ incident. In a fit of rage, Talal Al Sharif, a deputy, went to his car, got out his Kalashnikov rifle, proceeded to parliament building, and fired at fellow parliamentarian Qusai Al Dmeisi, a deputy for one of the Zarqa districts. It got everyone’s attention.

Fortunately, the couple of shots Al Sharif fired missed their target and he was quickly apprehended by parliamentary guards and other deputies. Prior to this incident, Al Dmeisi had punched Al Sharif during an argument in one of the parliamentary offices. Jordan has seen altercations between parliamentarians since 1989 when the kingdom was set on the road to democracy. However, this is the most serious, bordering on the criminal. A deputy taking up a firearm to settle a political feud is unprecedented in the history of Jordan’s parliament.

The House of Deputies witnessed another case in the 1990s when an ashtray was thrown at Tojan Faisal. In yet another case, Saif Al Deen Murad had his ear bitten off by a colleague in the debating chamber.

Reverting to firearms is a first. The deputies who heard the shots outside the debating Chamber rushed to see what had happened. They were angered at what they saw: two deputies being held back by others.

Their initial reaction was not to let the warring representatives back to the Chamber.

At the end of the day, Al Sharif was unanimously expelled from the house with 135 out of 136 deputies voting in favour. He was already in police custody.

After investigation by the House’s Legal Committee, and taking the testimony of other representatives into account, the House felt that Al Dmeisi was also to blame. It suspended him from participating in House debates for a year and took away his parliamentary privileges. Despite the political dismay, Jordan’s King Abdullah moved quickly and issued a royal decree, the second in almost a week — the first one sought to amend the budget law. The second decree allowed the deputies to debate the firing incident and deal harshly with it.

Speedy justice

If the deputies were to debate what had happened, they needed the royal assent to give them the constitutional mandate since the king had already decreed the inauguration of the 17th session of the House of Deputies on August 13.

Constitutional wrangling was soon set aside and this ensured that the crucial steps of expulsion and suspension were implemented. The deputies still had two constitutional hurdles to overcome. They had to vote on Article 86 and 90 of the Jordan constitution. The first stated that a parliamentary deputy enjoys immunity and the second that members can’t be removed from chambers unless there is a third majority voting.

Their vote was crucial if they wanted to secure the incarceration of Al Sharif and ensure his interrogation and probable imprisonment on charges relating to the possession of firearms. There was also the matter of suspending Al Dmeisi.

Observers and deputies have long criticised the secretariat of the House of Deputies for being too lenient with what they call rogue members, who resorted to bottle and shoe-throwing. This time, however, they were pleased.

Many, including Speaker of the Lower House Saeed Hayel Al Srour, praised the parliamentary chamber, saying its latest actions raised the status of parliament in the kingdom’s political sphere.

However, others were not happy about the violence displayed in what has come to be seen as a respectable institution of the country, and a pillar of its democratic status. After the incident, head of the House’s Tourism Committee Adnan Al Farajat submitted his resignation.

A deputy from Tafila, one of the southern electoral districts, said he can no longer be in a parliament where members resort to criminal behaviour and don’t respect the state.

Marwan Asmar is a political analyst based in Amman.