Under the Constitution, the bicameral legislature is called the National Assembly and consists of the thirty-member appointed Senate (sometimes called the House of Notables) and the popularly elected House of Representatives (also called the Chamber of Deputies). Prior to July 1988, both houses had an equal number of representatives from each bank of the Jordan River. The Constitution stipulates that the size of the Senate cannot be more than half that of the lower house. Of the two chambers, the Senate is regarded as the more elite; but like the lower chamber, it has had little real influence in the legislative process. Although the House of Representatives was vested with more legislative power than the upper house, both chambers have been overshadowed by the executive side of government.
The senators are appointed by the king for four-year terms, with half the membership retiring every two years at the end of a senate session. A senator may be reappointed. Qualifications for a senator include a minimum age of forty years and prior government or military service in relatively senior positions. Senators have included present and past prime ministers, former members of the House of Representatives who had been elected at least twice, former senior judges and diplomats, and retired officers who have attained the rank of general.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected to fouryear terms by secret ballot. Candidates must be Jordanian citizens more than thirty years of age. Individuals representing foreign interests or having material interests in any government contract are disqualified. Also excluded are persons who have been debarred from public office or who have blood ties to the king within a prescribed degree of relationship. Ten of the eighty seats are reserved for minorities including Christians, beduins, and Circassians.
Voters must be at least nineteen years of age. Suffrage has been universal since 1973, when women were enfranchised. All Palestinian refugees who have adopted Jordanian citizenship enjoy equal voting privileges with Transjordanians.
Prior to the November 1989 elections, the last national elections for the House of Representatives had been held in April 1967. In 1970 Hussein cited the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as reason for postponing elections, but he decreed that serving members would continue in office until circumstances permitted the holding of new elections. The 1974 decision by Arab heads of state at a summit meeting in Rabat, Morocco, that the PLO was the sole representative of the Palestinian people raised questions about the political relationship of the West Bank to Jordan. In response to this decision, in November 1974 Hussein dissolved the House of Representatives, half of whose members represented the West Bank. Nevertheless, Hussein was reluctant to sever ties to the Israelioccupied territory, and subsequently he decreed that elections for a new house would be held in March 1976. Whether the elections would include or exclude the West Bank had serious consequences for Jordan's relations with the PLO. Moreover, some Arab states interpreted the Rabat decision to mean that Jordan should renounce its claims to the West Bank--an interpretation to which Hussein did not then subscribe. As the time for the elections drew near, Hussein decided that postponing the elections would be the prudent course to avoid foreclosing future political options. Consequently, in February 1976, he recalled the old house, with its West Bank members. It convened briefly to approve the indefinite suspension of elections for a new House of Representatives, then it adjourned.
In 1978, Hussein issued a royal decree that granted some legislative functions to a newly created sixty-member appointive body, the National Consultative Council (NCC). The NCC, which did not include any members from the West Bank, had a limited mandate to study, debate, and render advice on bills drafted by the Council of Ministers. The NCC possessed no authority, however, to make policy or to approve, amend, or reject any bill. The NCC provided advisory opinions to the Council of Ministers on general state policy when requested by the prime minister. The decree establishing it stated that the NCC would be "lawfully dissolved when the House of Representatives is elected and convened."
In January 1984, Hussein dismissed the NCC and reconvened the suspended National Assembly. He appointed new members to the Senate but called back those members of the House of Representatives who were serving when the lower house last met in 1976. By-elections were held in the East Bank in March to fill eight vacancies in the house that had resulted from the deaths of members since the 1967 elections. In accordance with a January 1984 constitutional amendment, the house also voted to fill seven vacant West Bank seats. In March 1986, the house approved a new electoral law that would increase its membership from 60 to 142; 71 members would be elected from the East Bank, 60 from the West Bank, and 11 from Palestinian refugee camps on the East Bank; this law was never implemented. In 1987 the government began registering Jordanians on the East Bank so that they could vote in parliamentary elections scheduled for 1988; these would have been the first national elections in more than twenty-one years. At the end of 1987, however, registration was halted and the king issued a royal decree that postponed elections for two years.
In July 1988, Hussein renounced Jordan's claims to the West Bank. In light of the new political situation, the king dissolved the House of Representatives. A royal decree issued in October postponed indefinitely elections for a reorganized legislature. A subsequent decree in December abolished the ministerial-level Office of Parliamentary Affairs. Following antigovernment riots in April 1989, however, outgoing Prime Minister Rifai promised that the interim government would concentrate on carrying out the long delayed parliamentary elections. In July Prime Minister Shakir scheduled the elections for November. They were the first national elections for the House of Representatives in more than twenty-two years.
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