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Prime Minister Maruf al-Bakhit's new cabinet line-up generated mixed reactions among Jordanians, while Islamists were quick to declare their reservations.
There are 27 ministers in al-Bakhit's cabinet, which was announced on Wednesday (February 9th), including five ministers from the previous government led by Samir Rifai.
The new government includes representatives from a broad spectrum of civil society institutions and political parties. Bakhit appointed two women to the cabinet, Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, the minister for tourism and antiquities and Salwa Al-Damen, the minister for social development. There are no members of parliament in the cabinet. Thirteen ministers are serving in their capacity for the first time.
The Labour Party, which includes 20 deputies, issued a statement saying it will wait until the ministerial statement is released before deciding whether to grant a vote of confidence to the new government. The opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (the largest party in Jordan), expressed reservations.
"The Islamic Action Front rejected the prime minister's invitation for the party to serve in his government through several ministerial portfolios during meetings the last few days," Jamil Abu Bakr, a spokesperson for the Islamic Action Front Party (IAF) and a member of its executive office, told Al-Shorfa.
He added, "This is not a rejection that is 'set in stone' by the Islamists against the government. The government's action will influence the Islamic Action Front's position, not merely the names of ministers and their portfolios."
Abu Bakr said the IAF had recently sent the prime minister a formal written memorandum with a specific list of the party's demands.
The memorandum included an invitation to discuss changes to the election law that would combine the advantages of two electoral systems (proportional representation and electoral districts), ensure the supervision of elections by an independent body, and amend the law on public meetings.
The memorandum called for an end to government censorship of the media, an improvement in the lives of citizens, a campaign to fight corruption in all forms, expansion of health care services, and establishment of a trade union for teachers.
Mohammad Abu Rumman, a political analyst, argued that the new government represented a "conciliatory government that included civil society organisations, especially those that were leading the demonstrations in the street to protest the high cost of living and corruption".
Bakhit pledged to pursue real reform, increase freedom, and lay the foundation for dialogue. He also pledged to support a "deep and serious dialogue" with the various forces in the country, pointing out that a loyal opposition is "a key partner for the government, and it operates from a position that has respect and legal safeguards".
Regarding media freedom, Bakhit said the government "will consult with the press corps to discuss everything that can be modified or added within the legislative framework concerning access to information".
Jordanians expressed differing views about the new government and its ability to meet the expectations of the population.
"The new government is capable of handling the current situation because the ministers represent institutions of civil society and various political groups that have declared objectives," Ayat Moaz, an employee at a private company, said.
Hassan Ismail, a retired accountant in his 50s, said he expected tangible progress and reforms in the political and economic arenas.
Ismail said he will not rush to judge the new government "but will wait for 100 days to evaluate real achievements on the ground".
He said, "Living conditions have deteriorated because of rising food prices. The demonstrations and sit-ins that occurred in different parts of the Kingdom sought political reform and improved living conditions. This situation places an enormous burden on the new government to ease tensions over corruption."
Jumana Al-Ghanimat, a journalist, said the current government is capable of carrying out real reforms.
"The prime minister appointed credible political figures with substantial expertise although he was compelled to keep some ministers from the Rifai government, notably the ministers of finance, planning, water, interior and foreign affairs," she told Al-Shorfa.
Al-Ghanimat said, "All of these individuals and others have engaged with the street from their previous positions in ways that support political and economic reform."
Baddi Salem, a professor of business administration, questioned whether the prime minister can handle the demands of the current situation.
"Al-Bakhit has already served as head of government between 2005 and 2007, and he failed to make any progress in terms of economic and political development," he said.