June 12, 2011 / 9:12 PM / 6 years ago

Jordan King promises to speed democratic reforms

<p>A Jordanian girl chants next to a picture of Jordan's King Abdullah during celebrations of the 12th anniversary of King Abdullah's accession to the throne in Amman June 11, 2011.Muhammad Hamed</p>

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah said on Sunday he was committed to pushing ahead with democratic reforms, but believed street pressure for change was a recipe for chaos.

The monarch, speaking in a televised speech marking his 12 years as ruler and ninety years of the state's creation, said he backed a new electoral law proposed by a government-appointed panel that would allow for a cabinet to be elected by a parliamentary majority rather than being chosen by him.

"We hope these recommendations ensure a modern electoral law that leads to a parliament that is representative of all Jordanians," he said.

Parliaments are currently elected under laws that ensure a pliant pro-government assembly composed of tribal loyalists.

The Islamist-led opposition has expressed disappointment over the limited nature of the reforms proposed by the committee that they boycotted and which came after weeks of street protests earlier this year calling for political changes.

The proposals unveiled last week keep intact a gross underrepresentation of Jordan's cities, mostly inhabited by Palestinians, to ensure a dominance by rural, sparsely populated tribal areas over the large cities, including the capital which have long been the opposition Islamist strongholds.

"As we witness the changes in the region, this demands making a difference between the required democratic changes and between the dangers of chaos and (fitna) sedition on the other," he said.

The Hashemite monarchy is viewed as an arbiter among feuding tribes and a unifying force that holds together the country's two main competing groups, East Bank native Jordanians and their countrymen of Palestinian origin.

The monarch has faced pressures for reforms by a broad calls from the Islamists, the country's largest political force to leftists and tribal figures, to relinquish his extensive powers, ranging from appointing cabinets to dissolving parliament.

Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, the largest political party, and liberal politicians alongside opposition tribal figures say political freedoms in Jordan have been eroded in recent years and accuse the authorities of resisting change.

The monarch defended his reformist credentials since he ascended the throne in 1999, saying he had long pushed for reforms which he has long accused vested interests within the establishment of derailing.

King Abdullah said he wanted a empowered legislature and amendments to the constitution that would usher greater political rights but could not accept reform pressures from unnamed radical groups that agitated through street protests.

"Our reformist vision is through speedy reforms that respond to our peoples desires... away from recourse to the street and the absence of reason," he said.

The kingdom has not seen the turmoil that has spread across the Arab world since January, leading to the overthrow of long-time regimes in Tunisia and Egypt as well as clashes in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

Writing by Suleimen al-Khalidi; Editing Matthew Jones

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