By Hassan A. Barari
Of all the challenges that face Jordan, handling the deteriorating economic situation is decisive for this government.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour will certainly have a hard time grappling with the economic predicament he inherited.
Implicit in Ensour’s statements and in his discussions with different sectors is the desire to have people on his side once he makes the decision to lift subsidies and raise prices. And yet, when it comes to a new hike in prices, the past is always going to weigh heavily on decision makers.
Just a few months ago, the government had to cave in to public pressure and freeze a decision to raise prices. It was obvious then that the stability of the country was at stake.
Jordanians have the unshakable belief that the deteriorating economic situation is caused by wrong government policies over the years. Compounding that is the fact that governments relied heavily on other countries to underwrite mismanagement of their resources.
Historically, Jordan’s foreign policy has partly been designed to earn enough financial aid to balance the budget deficit.
The huge deficit in the 2012 budget and the refusal of traditional donors to help Jordan out in this difficult time is perhaps a statement on Jordan’s foreign policy.
Jordanians question this foreign policy and its inability to elicit financial aids from traditional donors.
Not surprisingly, the ability of the state to convince people about the need to lift subsidies is limited.
The prime minister already has one failure under his belt: convincing key political forces to take part in the upcoming elections.
Perhaps, some centres of power in Jordan sought to exclude these political forces from the political process. I may be stating the obvious when I say that certain influential officials think that confronting Islamists and activists in the street is less damaging than enabling them to have substantial power in Parliament.
The prime minister will have difficulty finding a way to reassure people about his new policies, which people fear and dislike. He cannot increase prices without expecting social disruption and instability.
His options are extremely limited. He made it perfectly clear that failing to lift subsidies on certain commodities may lead to the devaluation of the currency, a measure that can severely affect the purchasing power of a majority of households in this country.
How can one expect people to understand a devastating economic decision while the society is still divided over the package of political reform?
Jordanians’ ability to face all challenges is much higher if the state acts in good faith and works towards bringing about genuine reform.
The way the reform package was imposed has not helped make the society conducive to understanding the looming economic decisions.
Jordanians are aware of the financial quandary of the state. They recognise that the country cannot live on external financial aids for good. Nonetheless, people find it hard to accept any decision that affects their standard of living before the government proves to be transparent.
Additionally, the government should fight corruption tooth and nail, and not in a selective manner, exert effort to restore stolen money and, above all, empower people politically.
In brief, the economic crisis that has almost brought the country to its knees is expected to shift the centre of gravity in the country to the street. For the country to be back on its feet, a quick political and economic fix is needed.
Hassan Barari, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a Jordanian writer and professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.