The hall where a lively debate had taken place for 80 minutes suddenly went silent. A courageous Jordanian journalist had just asked a feisty candidate for Jordan's parliamentary elections a question rarely asked. "Are you in favor of a constitutional change that will allow prime minister's to be elected and would curtail the King's power's to dissolve the parliament?" asked Hamza Al Soud, Radio al Balad's parliamentary reporter.
Odeh Quawas a former member of parliament and a long time human rights fighter took on the question directly:
I think any constitutional amendment should be studied by an elected group of experienced thinkers and not in a forum like this, but I do agree that the prime minister should be elected and not appointed and that the King's power to dissolve the parliament should be curtailed.
Kawwas went on to explain that he believes that what he had just said falls within the exact policies and thoughts that the King himself is advocating.
Statements such as that of Quawas are rare in a country where the constitution gives the monarch wide ranging powers. But the forum of a debate provided a number of candidates with an opportunity to make statements that are usually kept in close circles. Five candidates participated in the debate organized by the independent radio station, Radio al Balad, it was also webcast live by Jordandays.tv a Jordanian WebTV that broadcasts live public events.
Joining Quawas was long time independent anti-corruption former MP Mamdouh Abadi, leading woman candidate Reem Badran, a pro-Iraqi Baath candidate Rajai Naffa and the youngest nominee in the Jordanian elections 39-year-old Mohammad Deery. The debate moderated by al Balad radio's Hiba Obeidat along with leading Jordanian columnist Mohammad Abu Romman from the daily Al Ghad and Waleed Hussni, parliamentary reporter for the independent al Arab al Yowm.
The Amman debate followed a debate scheduled for Jordan's populated city of Zarqa which was not allowed to take place by the governor of the city. In a short message, governor Saad al Wade Manaseer, denied the Zarqa chamber of commerce from hosting Radio al Balad's debate. The governor used the law banning meetings without license to ban the debate. The Zarqa debate took place despite this ban. On Saturday October 16th two candidates made their way to the radio station's Amman studios and along with a handful of Zarqa residents conducted a debate dealing with issues of unemployment and the enviornment, both important issues in Zarqa.
Two more debates are scheduled in the coming weeks, one debate dealing with education and health will be held in Irbid next week and the final week before elections the southern city of Karak will witness a candidates debate on agriculture and development. All these debates are supported by a grant from the Washington-based National Endowment to Democracy to Community Media Network, a not for profit media NGO in Amman, and the Jordanian think tank Al Quds Center for Political Affairs.