Last Updated: Mon Oct 24, 2011 16:16 pm (KSA) 13:16 pm (GMT)

Jordan swears in new government

Awn Khasawneh, Jordan’s new prime minister, has been given the responsibility of initiating political reforms in the country. (Reuters)
Awn Khasawneh, Jordan’s new prime minister, has been given the responsibility of initiating political reforms in the country. (Reuters)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Monday swore in a new government led by Awn Khasawneh, who has been entrusted with the task of bringing in political reform.

Khasawneh is a 61-year-old international judge at the International Court of Justice. He was poised to lead the organization, and had he taken the position, he would have become the second Arab judge to do so, according to a report in The Daily Beast on Saturday.

When asked why he opted to accept the position in Jordan, which would see him entering “a political minefield”, Khasawneh told Newsweek: “I felt that the situation was really turning dangerous in the country. And I felt that if I didn’t accept, it would slide and nosedive. I decided to do what I think was the right thing for my country.”

Khasawneh replaced prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit, who was dismissed a week ago.

Bakhit, a conservative ex general, was widely criticized for his inept handling of the domestic crisis, according to a report in AFP.

New finance minister

The former central banker Ummaya Toukan has been appointed finance minister in a cabinet that includes moderates and technocrats to widen its national appeal.

According to a Reuters report, Toukan’s appointment is likely to allay investor concerns over soaring public spending that has threatened fiscal and monetary stability.

His appointment signaled the authorities’ desire to restore fiscal discipline, economists told Reuters.

The previous government’s extra $1 billion of social spending – mainly on salary hikes and handouts designed to curb protests inspired by regional uprisings – was projected to send the budget deficit over 7 percent of GDP after grants.

Without a Saudi grant of $1.4 billion this year it would have gone beyond 11 percent, officials privately say. Officially the budget deficit is still at 5.5 percent of GDP.

U.S.-educated Toukan, who holds a doctorate from Columbia Business School, was the CEO of Jordan’s Stock Exchange, and from 2001 to 2010 was governor of the Central Bank. He is widely respected within the IMF and donor community, officials say.

Challenges ahead

Jordan has remained largely unscathed by the bloody revolts sweeping the Arab world, but it has not been immune to sporadic crackdowns on protestors and dissent since January. The opposition claims its activists have been harassed, sometimes beaten, for demanding reforms and an end to corruption. There have not been large scale calls for the king to step down.

Analysts believe that after a crackdown on an opposition conference last week, the king dismissed Bakhit’s government and appointed Khasawneh to allay criticism and show that he is committed to initiating reforms.

There are some fears of an Islamist resurgence – believed to be spreading over post-revolution Arab countries – taking shape in Jordan. The country’s Muslim Brotherhood is the largest organized opposition group in the country and on Saturday rejected calls to join the government, saying it was pessimistic about the administration’s agenda to push through reforms.

“Pessimism replaced our original satisfaction because, according to leaks, it seems the new government will resemble its predecessors,” a statement on its website said on Saturday.

In response to such allegations, Khasawneh told The Daily Beast on Saturday that King Abdullah had already accepted some limitations on his power and that he’s willing to looking into curbing the monarch’s power, “if they make sense legally and logically. They shouldn’t just become political slogans.”

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