Jordan diplomat Bisher Al Khasawneh faces tough challenges as PM

Al Khasawneh given task of forming government to tackle economy and coronavirus outbreak

Jordan's Foreign Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh poses as he arrives for the Mideast peace conference in Paris, France, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Bertrand Guay/POOL
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Veteran diplomat Bisher Al Khasawneh faces tough policy decisions after being appointed on Wednesday by King Abdullah II to lead Jordan's next government, experts said.

Mr Al Khasawneh, 51, who served as the king's policy adviser, assumes the Prime Minister's post after the resignation of Omar Razzaz's government on October 3, in preparation for parliamentary elections next month.

The western-educated diplomat, who holds a doctorate in law from the London School of Economics, also has the challenge of boosting the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Al Khasawneh has extensive experience forging relations with regional and international states during his time as foreign minister, and as a peace negotiator with Israel.

But now he needs to form a Cabinet of ministers qualified to tackle the country’s pressing problems.

Addressing Jordan's economic challenges will be Mr Al Khasawneh's toughest issue, especially as the pandemic has hit Jordan hard, Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told The National.

“The economic situation is exceptionally tough with the economy set to shrink by 6 per cent this year, and unemployment just under 25 per cent,” Mr Doyle said.

Jordan also hosts large numbers of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, he said.

If Mr Al Khasawneh fails to address key concerns then Jordanians will “struggle to keep their jobs and feed their families whilst simultaneously having to stomach severe constraints on their everyday lives and freedoms”, Mr Doyle said.

Mr Al Razzaz faced increasing criticism of the way his government dealt with the pandemic and his failure to combat corruption.

He was appointed in 2018 to quell public anger after austerity measures to win IMF support sparked anti-government protests sparked across the country.

After successfully containing the initial outbreak of Covid-19, Jordan is facing an increase in infections during a time of rising public frustration over deteriorating economic conditions and curbs on public freedom.

The country has recorded 20,200 cases and 131 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Health authorities have warned that the kingdom may be forced to impose more closures or a full lockdown should the number of cases continue to surge.

But Mr Al Khasawneh’s first job will be to oversee parliamentary elections due on November 10.

King Abdullah dissolved Parliament last month at the end of its four-year term, requiring Mr Razzaz's government to resign under the provisions of the constitution.

The king said he hoped the new government would improve the country's ability to fight the virus.

"The formation of this government comes at an exceptional time," he said, referring to the fast spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

King Abdullah said the new government should boost the capacity of the healthcare system, which doctors fear could collapse if community spread is out of control.