Jordanian political circles welcomed the move by King Abdullah II on Monday (October 17th) to ask international legal expert Awn al-Khasawneh to form a new government following the resignation of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit.
The move comes amidst escalating protests demanding the dismissal of the Bakhit government because of its handling of Jordan's economy and its problems interacting with political and social movements in Jordan.
A report issued on Wednesday (October 19th) found that Jordan has witnessed an unprecedented number of protests this year. The labour monitor of the Phoenix Centre for Economic Studies, in co-operation with the German Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, found that 607 labour protests took place in Jordan during the first nine months of 2011. Of those, 481 took place during the first six months—a figure unprecedented in the history of the Kingdom.
King Abdullah instructed the new prime minister to give priority to completing work on laws governing political life, foremost among them the election law and the political parties law. The king also instructed the new government to complete the law that establishes an independent commission for the oversight and administration of elections, which would pave the way for the upcoming parliamentary elections, in addition to the law of the Constitutional Court.
He also instructed the new government to improve the standard of living for Jordanians by implementing economic and social development programmes to promote economic stability, boost growth rates, address issues of poverty and unemployment, improve the investment environment, and attract investments to create jobs.
Al-Khasawneh was born in Amman in 1950. He holds a Bachelor's degree in History and Law, in addition to a Master's degree in International Law from Cambridge University in England. He joined the Jordanian diplomatic corps and worked in the Permanent Mission of Jordan to the United Nations in New York.
The new prime minister participated in the drafting of a number of international treaties, including the Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (for which he was the Chairman of the drafting committee), the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of treaties, the Rome Treaty on Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and others.
The Human Rights Commission elected him as a member of the International Committee for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities three times between 1982 and 1993, and as president in 1993. He also oversaw the presidential and legislative elections in Guatemala in 1985.
In 2000, the UN General Assembly and Security Council elected him as a judge of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and then re-elected him in 2009 for nine years.
In Jordan, al-Khasawneh worked as director of the legal department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as an adviser to Prince Hassan bin Talal, as an adviser to Jordan's late King Hussein Bin Talal, and then as president of the Royal Hashemite Court from 1996 to 1998.
Political expert Yahya Choucair said that the mandate of al-Khasawneh came with an aim toward "promoting political freedoms and pushing democratic work forward".
"This mandate contains an internal message strengthening the democratic atmosphere and the adoption of political legislation and the recent constitutional amendments, and an external message clarifying the atmosphere of openness that Jordan is experiencing," Choucair told Al-Shorfa.
"The intellectual elite are counting on the al-Khasawneh government to stop the intrusion on civil liberties and to deal seriously with the political and economic dilemmas that have worsened in recent times," he said.
The Islamic Action Front responded to al-Khasawneh's mandate to form a new government with remarks by the Secretary-General of the Front, Sheikh Hamza Mansour, on Tuesday. He said that the issue of the Islamic movement's participation in the new government is based on several factors, foremost among them the nature of the ministerial team and the development of a clear timetable for reform, stressing that the party respects the new prime minister.
Mansour's statement came after al-Khasawneh said he welcomed participation by the Islamic Action Front and the entire political spectrum in the government.
Mohamed al-Majali, an activist in the Professional Worker Association, said the selection of al-Khasawneh came after a crisis caused by the previous government's handling of labour demands.
Al-Majali described the new prime minister as "a moderate and centrist man known for his support of public freedoms and activities in human rights and environmental protection".
However, financial analyst Dr. Amer Muasher believes that the new government faces great economic challenges.
"The new government inherited a legacy burdened with an alarming financial situation, especially with the debt reaching $17 billion and a growing budget deficit expected to reach $1.5 billion by the end of the year," Muasher said.
He called on the government to work on political and economic problems in tandem, saying that, "The previous government was clearly more interested in political affairs than economic, as losses in the market value of shares listed on the Amman Stock Exchange have been estimated at more than four billion dollars in the first nine months of this year."