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Jordan's king swears in new government

King Abdullah II arrives at the Raghadan Palace to attend the swearing-in ceremony for Jordan's new cabinet. [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

King Abdullah II arrives at the Raghadan Palace to attend the swearing-in ceremony for Jordan's new cabinet. [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

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Jordan's new government was sworn in before King Abdullah II on Monday (October 24th) amid political and popular demands to give the cabinet a chance to achieve economic growth and political harmony in the kingdom.

The new cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Awn al-Khasawneh, consists of 29 ministers, including four ministers who served in the previous government: Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh, Minister of Planning Jafar Hassan, Minister of Public Works and Housing Yahya al-Kasby, and Minister of Health Abdul Latif Wureikat.

The cabinet includes nine ministers who served in previous cabinets, and 16 first-time ministers. A new Ministry of Youth and Sports was created to replace the Supreme Council for Youth while the Ministries of Political Development and Parliamentary Affairs were merged into a single portfolio.

Islamist parties declined to accept any ministerial positions despite efforts by al-Khasawneh to include them. Hamza Mansour, secretary-general of the Islamic Action Front, said in a press statement Saturday that "circumstances are not ripe yet", while affirming the group's support "for any reform programme initiated by the prime minister".

New government to 'tackle country's economic problems'

Al-Khasawneh said in televised remarks that the government will begin work completing legislation and laws that affect political life.

He underlined the importance of addressing the challenges, "some of which are significant economic challenges that are perhaps the root cause [of the problems], and some are political." He added that the government will host a national dialogue on the elections and political party laws and submit them to the House of Representatives.

In a letter to the king, al-Khasawneh wrote, "The government will complete the laws and political legislation in consultation with the public and political forces and civil society institutions."

He said the government will also make every effort to address the country's economic problems, particularly poverty and unemployment, and implement development programmes that promote economic stability and higher growth rates.

Economist Dr. Mohammad Tal said despite the impact of the global recession, it is important that the government's new economic team "find quick and creative solutions to accelerate growth and control the budget deficits, the balance of payments, and the public debt, which recently hit $17 billion."

Islamists withhold judgement

The Islamic Action Front Party opted to withhold judgment about the new cabinet until it learns more about its plans. Mansour said after the government was formed, "We prefer to base our judgment on the practices we observe."

Others criticized the lack of political representation in the government with partisan participation being limited to two ministers from the National Movement Party, Sami Gammoh and Haya Qaralleh.

Abla Abu Ilbeh, secretary-general of the Jordanian People's Democratic Party, said, "The ministerial team includes members who are not well known, and political representation is almost absent."

The Jordanian Coalition of Youth and Popular Movements committee issued a statement announcing it would continue its weekly sit-ins. The group announced Friday as the date for its next sit-in. The committee criticised the new government, saying it was formed using methods that are characterised by "non-inclusive decision making."

Khleif Khawaldeh, the new Minister of Public Sector Development, said he will continue to raise the competence level of government performance to the highest levels possible.

"The ministry will prepare plans and well conceived programmes to improve the performance of the public administration sector to improve services for citizens," Khawaldeh told Al-Shorfa.

'Wait and see' attitude

Political writer Sami Mahasneh told Al-Shorfa, "The cabinet should be judged by its deeds, not its members. In most cases on the international level, public satisfaction is measured 100 days after the government is formed."

Mahasneh said the government represents a geographical balance among all of Jordan's regions and includes many technocrats in the cabinet such as Higher Education Minister Rowaida Maaitah and Minister of Public Sector Development Khleif al-Khawaldeh.

Mahasneh called for patience that will allow the new government time to perform.

"Perhaps the situation will improve," said Mohammed Dawaimeh, a worker in a transport company, referring to the high cost of living. Dawaimeh stressed the importance of improving the economic situation and not imposing new tax burdens on citizens.

"Regardless of the names in the new government, let us wait and see the results and determine whether there will be a difference in the new government's performance," he said.