Could Jordan’s Courts Dissolve Parliament?

The events in Syria have attracted a substantial amount of attention, but it is also important not to overlook other issues as well, such as a recent court ruling in Jordan that could result in new elections being held. It could also continue a potentially troubling precedent of judicial decisions that have dissolved elected houses of the legislature in more than one country.

The Jordanian Constitutional Court has said that it is reviewing the electoral law under which the elections were held in January after a lower court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. When asked about the issue a Spokesman said only that there has not been a decision that would dissolve the lower house of parliament so far, but implicitly left open the possibility that the Constitutional Court could make such a decision in the future. The court is required to issue a decision on this challenge to the electoral law within the next 30 days.

If the Constitutional Court were to rule that parliament was elected incorrectly, the decision would be the first of its kind in Jordan since the elected parliament was restored in November 1989, despite numerous revisions to the electoral law since then. However, it would not be the first time that a judicial decision has dissolved parliament in an Arab country. In June 2012 the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the lower house of the Egyptian parliament had been incorrectly elected and needed to be dissolved. The judges who issued that decision had been appointed under Mubarak, and the decision was seen by some as part of an effort to prevent Islamists from assuming power, but the actual result of the decision was rather different. What actually happened was that Mohamed Morsi won the July 2012 Presidential election held one month later and became President without a properly elected parliament (even one controlled by his party) to provide a check on his powers. Could this have led ultimately to the events which precipitated Morsi’s ouster? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But it is still important to recognize the fact that this decision and the lack of an elected parliament played a role in Morsi’s decision to try to take additional power for himself after he was elected.

Similar events have happened more than once in Kuwait as well, as a decision by their constitutional court ruled in 2012 that the parliament elected in February 2012 (and dominated by the opposition) was incorrected elected, and was thus dissolved. Then the Emir issued a decree changing the electoral law, and another election was held (and boycotted by the opposition) in December 2012, and the Constitutional Court overturned that election as well later on, which required yet another election this year.

Regardless of how one feels about the electoral law, giving the judiciary the authority to dissolve parliament with a court ruling is a poor precedent to set, and is probably not likely to provide the result that those challenging the electoral law have hoped for. It could even provide a way for the regime to dissolve a parliament that it was unhappy with in the future. It is true that the electoral system under which the elections were held in January was flawed, but it is also important to seek reform through means other than those which could have future unintended consequences.

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