Jordanian government quits after protests

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

AMMAN - Jordan’s King Abdullah Tuesday asked ex-premier Marouf Bakhit to form a new government, after the incumbent prime minister Samir Rifai and his government resigned in the wake of protests in the country, seemingly inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt.

Rifai’s surprise resignation was accepted by the monarch, who called on Bakhit to implement “speedy and real” political reforms, a royal court statement said.

Other reports said the king sacked Rifai - only in power since parliamentary elections in November.

“We hereby ask you to form a new government, the main job of which will be taking practical, speedy and tangible steps to launch a process of real political reforms that reflect our comprehensive modernisation vision,” Abdullah said in his letter.

Jordan, which borders Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia, has been racked by three weeks of protests, similar to those first in Tunisia and now Egypt.

Whilst up to a million demonstrators were expected to march on the presidential palace in Cairo on Tuesday, opposition groups in Syria were also calling for demonstrations in Damascus Saturday, as the entire Middle East region experiences unprecedented turbulence.

Rifai served twice as prime minister. Picked by Abdullah the first time as prime minister in December 2009, he then formed his second cabinet after the Nov 9, 2010 parliamentary elections, which were boycotted by the country’s main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF).

The IAF and its mother group, the Muslim Brotherhood movement, demanded a new election law that ensures proportional representation in the new chamber.

The latest Jordanian protests against Rifai’s government seemed to derive impetus from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, diplomats said.

In his letter to Bakhit, Abdullah implicitly acknowledged Rifa’s shortcomings, when he spoke about the “hesitation” on the part of many officials to carry out the wanted reforms.

The monarch also complaint that certain politicians tried to “resist change out of keenness on protecting their interests”.

“Therefore, we ask you to conduct a comprehensive evaluation in the run-up for adopting effective measures to correct the past mistakes through process that involves a revision of legislations governing political and civilian action as well as public freedoms,” the monarch said.

Abdullah said that the amendment of the election law should be given priority along with the political parties law.

Prime ministers are usually the choice of the Jordanian king in the absence of political parties with majorities at the parliament.

Bakhit, a graduate of the University of London in strategic studies, and a former ambassador in Israel, served as prime minister for the first time in November 2005.

His government supervised the previous general elections in 2007, when the polling process witnessed certain “irregularities”, according to the state-funded National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR).

Islamists accused Bakhit’s government of attacking them in the election, which ended with the IAF getting only six seats, compared with 17 seats previously, in the then 110-member lower house of parliament.

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