Jordan's king inaugurated the country's newly elected parliament Sunday with a pledge to press ahead with democratization, but said he will help pick the next prime minister even though that job is now officially in the hands of the lawmakers.
Abdullah II touted the Jan. 23 election as a "milestone" in reforms he initiated two years ago to forestall large-scale Arab Spring unrest that toppled four of his peers since 2010. He recently suggested that the new legislature will have more powers to run the daily affairs of the state and monitor the Cabinet in the future as the monarchy takes a step back, giving the people a wider say in politics.
The parliament is supposed to choose the prime minister, who was previously appointed by the monarch. But the election was boycotted by the best organized opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and yielded a legislature body dominated by inexperienced independents.
In his speech to lawmakers, Abdullah said Jordan was going through a "decisive transitional period," which will start with lawmakers electing a prime minister under palace supervision — at least until fragmented and nascent political parties mature and are able to compete on ideological basis in future elections.
"We will start as part of this new approach with consultations over the government's formation with the Lower House and parliamentary blocs as they take shape, in order to reach consensus that leads to the designation of a prime minister," Abdullah said.
A government official said that the king wanted to avoid "political chaos" as novice politicians make key decisions. He insisted on anonymity, saying he could not comment publicly on a matter considered a royal prerogative.
The Brotherhood had in fact demanded a change to the election law. It says that in its current form, the election law favors locally based independents over ideological blocs.
The king said he would revisit the election law. "The elections were held under a new election law that was not ideal, although it earned as much consensus as was possible," he said.
But the next elections are four years from now, and it is unclear how much this will address a wave of protests that, although small and peaceful compared to others in the region, are an opposition movement's strongest show of force in Jordan in decades.
Abdullah dissolved the previous legislature halfway through its four-year term last year amid complaints that its predominantly conservative tribal lawmakers were too docile. Following the elections, the last royal-appointed prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, resigned. But the king asked him to stay on until a new prime minister is elected. Consultation over the picking a premier is to start this week.
Abdullah spoke at a joint meeting of the 150-member Chamber of Deputies and the 75-member royally appointed Senate. Beforehand, the king participated in a lavish military ceremony outside the domed parliament chamber in the heart of Amman. Abdullah inspected an honor guard as he received a 21-gun salute.
Parliament later elected ex-Cabinet minister Saad Hayel Srour as its speaker. Srour is a Bedouin tribesman who is loyal to Jordan's king and has served as parliament speaker for several previous terms.