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Middle East

Jordan king accuses outgoing PM of delaying reform

Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh. (AFP PHOTO/KHALIL MAZRAAWI)

AMMAN: Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday accepted the resignation of premier Awn Khasawneh, accusing him of delaying much-needed reform, six months after forming a government mandated to bring in change.

The king replaced Khasawneh with Fayez Tarawneh, 63, who was prime minister and royal court chief in the late 1990s.

"His majesty was not happy with how the government was delaying reforms," a senior palace official told AFP.

"He has committed to holding general elections by the end of this year and to speeding up the pace of reforms and meet popular demands, but things were not moving the way they should be."

The king told Khasawneh in a letter that "Jordan is going through a critical stage and it cannot afford any delay in achieving the needed reform."

"I have been monitoring the government's works for the past few months and I have seen that things are not moving ahead. So far, the achievements are less than what we expected," the palace quoted the king as saying.

Khasawneh, 62, an International Court of Justice judge, formed his cabinet last October to become the third premier of 2011, saying he had "received guarantees from the king to have full sovereignty as prime minister."

Sources said Khasawneh quit because he was unhappy that the king had decided to extend parliament's ordinary session until June 25.

"Your government has given priority to some laws at the expense of key reform legislation. And I was surprised you insisted that parliament's ordinary session should not be extended," the king said.

"This means freezing some important draft laws and not holding the elections by the end of year."

Khasawneh won a comfortable vote of confidence for his government from parliament in December, but he came under sharp criticism for proposing an electoral law that has been seen as a blow to pro-reform movements, including the powerful opposition Islamists.

"The law was not what I have aspired to but I think it suits this transitional period," he told the king in a letter.

The long-awaited draft, which was approved by the cabinet earlier this month, scraps a contested one-person-one-vote system and increases a quota for women MPs.

The Islamists and other groups criticised the proposal, mainly for limiting the number of seats allocated to political parties.

"Regardless of how he quit, this showed the sovereignty which the prime minister talked about does not exist in Jordan," said Zaki Bani Rshied, head of the political bureau of the powerful Islamic Action Front.

"It revealed the level of power struggle within the state. Unfortunately, the security services and a siege mentality have won."

Bani Rshied, whose party is the political arm of the country's Muslim Brotherhood, warned that "the coming phase will be full of political uncertainty."

"All that talk about reform that we have been hearing was nothing. It has been proven that there is no will to introduce reforms. The current atmosphere shows that the country is heading towards more failure," he told AFP.

Following his appointment, Khasawneh vowed to fight corruption, and analysts warned at the time that his government could be a last-ditch shot at reform.

"It was a strange decision. It is obvious the state is facing a dilemma," said Mohammed Masri, political analyst at the University of Jordan's Centre for Strategic Studies.

"In my opinion, the new prime minister does not have a convincing record to introduce the required reforms at this stage of 'Jordanian spring'. He is not known as an open-minded politician."

Masri said Tarawneh faces a "tremendous challenge."

"He needs to convince people that he can reform. If he fails, the dilemma will become bigger," he told AFP.

Jordan has seen relatively small but persistent Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations almost every week since January 2011, demanding sweeping reforms and a tougher fight against corruption.

But no significant anti-corruption action has been taken so far, while the overall debt reached $21 billion by the end of February.

Officially, unemployment is about 14 percent in the country of nearly 6.5 million people, 70 percent of them under the age of 30. Other estimates, mostly from non-government organisations, put unemployment as high as 30 percent.

 

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