Jordan's new PM says political reform 'a priority'

Appointed by King Abdullah as compromise candidate, prime minister Marouf Bakhit includes a few fresh faces among political veterans in his cabinet and promises less censorship, and 'dialogue' on election laws.

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AMMAN // Jordan's new prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, and his 26-member cabinet were sworn in yesterday, vowing to move ahead with political reforms amid growing public discontent.

Mr Bakhit was appointed by King Abdullah II earlier this month after his predecessor, Samir Rifai, was sacked.

"We are going to continue with comprehensive reforms," Mr Bakhit said after his swearing-in ceremony.

He said the new election law will be "a priority" and be based "on political dialogue and in partnership with parliament".

The firing of Mr Rifai, which came after weeks of street protest inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, was widely seen as a political concession by King Abdullah who, for the first time since he assumed the throne 12 years ago, bowed to public pressure.

The government is the second under Mr Bakhit and was formed after a week of consultations with civic and opposition groups, labour and business leaders. Mr Bakhit has said his government will ease censorship and curbs on political activity and public freedoms.

The cabinet included some new faces, such as Taher Adwan, the editor-in-chief of Arab Al Yawm, Jordan's only independent daily newspaper, who was appointed minister of state for media affairs and communications.

Taher Shakheir, a former head of Jordan's pharmacist association, was named minister of environment and Mazen Saket, a former head of the Civil Service Bureau, was appointed minister of public sector development and minister of political development.

Almost half of the cabinet included ministers who took part in previous governments, a detail that did not escape Adnan Hayajneh, a professor of political science at Hashemite University, a public university based in Zarqa.

"We need new faces," Mr Hayajneh said. "Mr Bakhit is now our last chance for us to see reforms. We have been talking them for years and we hardly saw any results."

The new coalition includes leftist unionists, one former Muslim Brotherhood member and a renowned women's activist.

The opposition Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, refused to join Mr Bakhit's cabinet, but said it wanted to give him a chance to enact reform.

Its leader Hamzeh Mansur said the new line-up was "just like its predecessors."

"But we will wait and see what it does before making a judgement," he said.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse