New PM expected to take Jordan forward

The resignation of Marouf Bakhit has been welcomed, but Muslim Brotherhood favours an elected prime minister rather than an appointee.

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AMMAN // King Abdullah II yesterday replaced his prime minister amid growing discontent over his government's inability to move ahead with political reforms.

The king named the International Court of Justice judge Awn Khasawneh, 61, as the new premier.

He also included Feisal Al Shoubaki as the head of the General Intelligence Department, replacing Mohammad Al Raqqad, who was the department's head for the past three years, local news websites reported.

The king asked Mr Khasawneh, a former chief of the royal court who was elected the deputy chief of the International Court of Justice between 2006 to 2009, to head the government after accepting the resignation of Marouf Bakhit yesterday.

"I hereby entrust you with the formation of a new government that will continue to move forward on all aspects of reform and modernisation, delivering on all the requirements of this phase, and building upon the accomplishments of previous governments," the king said in a letter to Mr Khasawneh, who joined The Hague-based court in 2000.

"Priority should be given to accomplish legislation and laws governing political life led by the election and political parties law."

Mr Khasawneh told reporters outside his house that the formation of his government would "take several days", adding he had "received guarantees from the king to have full sovereignty as prime minister".

He also vowed to fight corruption, which he said was "like cancer".

"We are open to everyone and we welcome the participation of Islamists and other groups in the government. We actually hope they would take part," he said, adding that opposition Islamists were "keen on national stability".

For months, Jordanians have been demanding Mr Bakhit's removal and on Sunday, 70 of the 120 MPs signed a petition asking the king to sack him, citing the government's failure to implement reforms.

"We are pleased with the measure," Mamdouh Abbadi, a member of parliament told The National. "Marouf Bakhit has been scrambling with his decision and he has exhausted all his chances to show that he was serious about reforms."

Mr Abbadi said the "last straw" was Mr Bakhit's refusal to support a proposal that would allow residents of an area with a population of more than 5,000 to form their own municipalities.

Jordanians have been protesting in recent months demanding the establishment of new municipalities.

Although the sacking of Mr Bakhit had come in response to public demands, analysts said any changes hinged on a new ministerial team that could champion political and economic reforms.

"The current stage requires a harmonious ministerial team that is capable of navigating Jordan out of its political and economic crisis," said Nabil Ghishan, an editor and columnist with Arab Al Yawm, an independent daily based in Amman.

Jordan's Islamic opposition said they had expected the change. Still, they criticised that the prime minister continued to be appointed by the king and was not elected by a parliamentary majority as they demanded.

"The public has asked for Bakhit's resignation and it was expected particularly in recent weeks," Jamil Abu Baker, the Muslim Brotherhood's spokesman, told The National. "But he was appointed and does not represent a majority in parliament.

"This is a transitional phase and a delicate one too. Its success depends now on the government's ability to deliver reforms that meet people's demands, most importantly an elected government and a modern election law. We also want an end to thuggery."

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse