Monday, 4 June 2018

Jordan’s politicians scramble to quell tax law protests

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AMMAN: A parliamentary tug of war is taking place in Jordan in an attempt to defuse public anger at an IMF inspired income tax law that has caused widespread protests.
Unions called for another one-day strike on Wednesday amid a groundswell of daily protests against the tax increases.
About 3,000 people demonstrated amid a heavy security presence on Saturday night and into Sunday morning near the prime minister’s office in Amman, waving Jordanian flags and signs reading “we will not kneel,” AFP reported.
In another part of the capital, security forces used tear gas to prevent hundreds of demonstrators from joining the rally, Jordanian news websites reported.
Further protests were expected over Sunday night.
In parliament on Sunday, two competing ideas were discussed to try and end the crisis.
Some politicians want to withdraw the draft law as a way of easing tensions and reintroduce it after proper discussion and debate. Others have called for a quick extraordinary session of parliament with the idea that the law would be rejected.
More than 80 out of 130 members of the lower house have signed the petition saying that if put to a vote they would reject the law.
Tarek Khoury, a maverick oppositional member of parliament, told Arab News that the idea of putting the draft law to a vote in parliament is dangerous.
“People need to know that even if the lower house rejected the draft law it would then be automatically transferred to the upper house, and if it passes in the upper house then a joint session would meet and a two thirds majority will be needed to make any change.”
Khoury said a much better route would be to withdraw the law and hold serious discussions about it to allow the ideas to mature.
“What is the rush? This law if passed will only become effective as of Jan. 1, 2019, we have plenty of time for serious discussions and then we can have it introduced to the people’s house,” Khoury said.
Rumors are swirling that if no progress is made and the protests continue, King Abdullah would have no choice but to ask for the resignation of prime minister Hani Al-Mulki.
The government last month proposed the new law, which would raise income tax on employees by at least five percent.
The measures are the latest in a series of economic reforms since Amman secured a $723-million three-year credit line from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.
The senate convened hours after protests ended on Sunday to discuss “ways of dealing with draft law... in the interest of all parties,” Jordan’s official Petra news agency said.
Protests have gained momentum with different groups joining the opposition to the draft law. A group of businessmen have deviated from the Chamber of Commerce to create a national council that opposes the law. Khalil Hajj Tawfiq, head of the food merchants union is to head a committee that will join the protests.
The speakers of the lower and upper houses canceled official iftars for Sunday and Monday night respectively.
In the capital Amman, residents in the poorest Tafileh neighborhood said they planned a Sunday night march toward the prime minister’s office.
Ali Abous, head of an umbrella group for 15 unions and professional associations with half a million members, told AP a strike was planned for Wednesday.
The doctor’s professional association also called action on that day unless the government withdrew the law.
Meanwhile, the Jordanian Bar Association asked its members not to attend any court sessions on Wednesday as a form of protest.
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