Jordan's king appoints new PM to bring in reforms

King Abdullah makes Maruf Bakhit prime minister again and tells him to carry out 'true political reforms' to 'ensure safe and decent living for all Jordanians'.

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AMMAN //King Abdullah II dismissed his government yesterday after weeks of street demonstrations and asked an ex-prime minister move ahead with political reforms.

The king asked Marouf Bakhit, 64, a former army general, who also served as prime minister between 2005 and 2007, to form a new government.

A statement from the palace said: "The major role is to implement rapid, practical and tangible steps to launch the process of real political reforms." s.

The dismissal of Samir Rifai follows large demonstrations across Jordan in which protesters blamed the prime minister for soaring food and fuel prices, poverty, unemployment and slowed political reforms. Among the demands of protesters, inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, were an elected government and a more freedom.

King Abdullah said that economic reform was a "necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won't be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making process."

Mr Bakhit is considered a moderate politician, who served as Jordan's ambassador to Israel earlier this decade.

Despite the resignation of Mr Rifai, analysts said it remains to be seen whether popular demands will be met.

Oraib al Rintawi, director of Al Quds Centre for Political Studies, a think tank based in Amman, aid: "People have lost their trust in government and parliament. We need constitutional changes that allow for an elected government based on a parliamentary majority."

The Islamic-led political opposition, made up of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), has repeatedly requested constitutional changes, such as filling the position of prime minister with the leader of the parliamentary majority, instead of the position being appointed by the monarch. In November, the opposition boycotted parliamentary elections claiming election law reforms, introduced in May, were unfair.

Yesterday, Hamza Mansour, head of the IAF, said the latest moves do not go far enough.

"This is not a step in the right direction and does not show any intent towards real political reforms or meeting the popular demands for people yearning for greater political freedoms," Mr Mansour said.

It was in a southern Bedouin town of Transjordanians, traditional supporters of the regime, where the protests first kicked off last month. In an attempt to placate public resentment, Mr Rifai announced wage increases two weeks ago to civil servants and the military. The government also introduced subsidies for fuel and basic foodstuff such as sugar and rice.

King Abdullah has also held a series of meetings with senators, parliamentarians and community leaders in his attempt to defuse public tensions, and paid surprise visits to impoverished areas to check on people's needs.

When he ascended to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father, King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multiparty system and the suspension of martial law in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.


With additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters