New Jordan PM unlikely to appease protesters

Protesters carry a national flag in Amman, Jordan (21 Jan 2011) Protesters had blamed former PM Rifai for the country's economic woes

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Many people in Jordan have questioned the wisdom of King Abdullah in appointing Marouf Bakhit to head the country's new government.

The appointment of the ex-army general and former ambassador to Israel follows three weeks of street protests over rising prices, inflation and unemployment.

Labib Kamhawi, an independent Jordanian analyst, said it showed the lack of intention on the part of the king, or ill-council by his advisers, "to initiate real substantial changes".

"This move has created great disappointment in the street," he said.

On Tuesday, the king dismissed Prime Minister Samir Rifai from his post along with his cabinet.

Thousands of protesters from all political stripes, including the Muslim Brotherhood and leftist unionists had demanded his departure. They blamed Mr Rifai for economic hardship and a lack of democratic reforms in the absolute monarchy.

Mr Kamhawi said it was important for King Abdullah to replace Mr Rifai with a "new face in whom there is general trust," because people have lost confidence in the old guard.

'Backfire'

He and others consider Mr Bakhit to be part of an establishment that has not seriously tackled Jordan's promised economic and political reforms.

"He should have appointed someone who actually has a platform for change," said Mr Kamhawi.

Start Quote

This is what has led people to protest in the streets, because they don't have avenues for venting how they feel through legal means”

End Quote Ibrahim Alloush Professor

"This has created a shock which will backfire more than help the current situation."

Mr Bakhit served as Jordan's prime minister once before in 2005, after the triple hotel blasts in Amman that November that killed 60 Jordanians, mainly Muslim women and children.

Jordan's powerful Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Islamic Action Front - the country's largest opposition - have also expressed its dissatisfaction with the choice of Mr Bakhit.

Other critics point out that he did not achieve many of the reforms he promised during his last tenure and they wonder what he will accomplish this time around.

Leftist university professor Ibrahim Alloush said it was not a question of changing faces or replacing one prime minister with another in Jordan.

"We're demanding changes on how the country is now run," he said.

Mr Alloush, who has been among the thousands who have staged protests here, accused the government of impoverishing the working class with regressive tax codes. This, he claimed, forced the poor to pay a higher proportion of their income as tax.

He also accused parliament of serving as a "rubber stamp" to the executive branch.

"This is what has led people to protest in the streets, because they don't have avenues for venting how they feel through legal means," Mr Alloush said, again repeating calls for genuine democratic changes to Jordan's system of government and economic reforms.

Record deficit

Some Jordanians want to see the re-introduction of a supply ministry which, in the past, helped to regulate prices of local commodities.

Jordanian PM Marouf Bakhit (file image) Mr Bakhit's critics say he is part of the old guard, not the future

They say the ministry would curb sharp price rises under Jordan's nascent open-market policies.

Rising global prices have badly affected economies in Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia sparking the protests.

Jordan's economy is weighed down by a record deficit of £1.2bn ($2bn) and unemployment tops 12%.

Although Mr Rifai announced a $550m package of new subsidies for fuel and basic goods like rice, sugar, heating and cooking fuel, in addition to raises for civil servants and security personnel, critics said the measure did not go far enough.

Mr Kamhawi said although Jordanians abide by the institution of monarchy, "it does not mean that they accept other policies adopted by the regime".

Recent protests should have provided the incentive for the king to move forward in the direction of change, he added.

Mr Kamhawi said he would not be surprised if more Jordanians took up the protesters' demands for a constitutional monarchy be considered in the future, where popular elections are held for the prime minister and cabinet posts.

"If the king continues in this vein with such changes, then tensions are bound to increase and we will see developments similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt," Mr Kamhawi warned.

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