x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Jordan's new PM vows to push reforms, fight corruption

Jordan's King Abdullah II swears in a new government headed by jurist Awn Khasawneh, who has vowed to boost political reforms and fight corruption.

AMMAN// King Abdullah II yesterday swore in a new government headed by renowned jurist Awn Khasawneh who has vowed to boost political reforms and fight corruption after anti-government protests that have rocked the country.

Mr Khasawneh's new cabinet is a broad mix of moderates, technocrats, newcomers and tribal leaders and includes two women.

"This government is not political but it reflects a social mosaic ," said Amer Sabaileh, a blogger and an independent political analyst based in Amman. "But the prime minister ensured that his choice from the tribes is one that is based on merit and geography. It is clear that he wants to calm public anger, but the real test is to show that he is capable of taking concrete steps.

"The public is fed up with promises, and this might be the last time Jordanians accept that their prime minister is appointed."

Mr Khasawneh was quoted by the government news agency, Petra, saying confidence in the integrity of parliamentary and municipal elections was vital and pledging new measures to ensure free and fair elections.

Foreign Minister Naser Judeh and Planning Minister Jafaar Hassan retained their portfolios. Former central bank chief Umayya Toukan was appointed finance minister in a move officials said aimed to allay investor concerns over soaring public spending that has threatened Jordan's fiscal and monetary stability. Mohammad Raoud, a retired army general, is the new interior minister.

The king named Mr Khasawneh, 61, a former judge with The Hague-based International Court of Justice, last week to replace Marouf Bakhit, who was sacked after eight months in the job amid growing public discontent over his government's slow pace of reform.

The reshuffle comes at a delicate time for Jordan.

The king told Mr Khasawneh last week his cabinet's mission was to accelerate reforms that the outgoing cabinet had been slow in pushing through.

Mr Bakhit had also antagonised Jordanian protesters and the Islamist opposition though heavy-handed policing of peaceful pro-reform rallies. He was dismissed after mounting criticism by parliamentarians and senior officials of his performance.

The powerful Islamist opposition declined Mr Khasawneh's invitation to join the cabinet, although they gave his administration a cautious welcome and said they would back a reformist agenda. The Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, the Islamic Action Front, are demanding a government formed on a parliamentary majority rather than royal appointment.

"It is still the old system of appointing governments that has led to corruption and tyranny," said the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Jamil Abu Baker. "Even if the prime minister is highly regarded and there are ministers who are qualified … we still believe that the changes are below our expectations at this stage."



* With additional reporting by Reuters