Jordan’s king swears in new government

Jordan’s pro-U.S. King Abdullah swore in on Sunday a reform-minded government charged with speeding up modernization of the kingdom.Prime Minister Nader Dahabi, a former air force chief who transformed the special economic zone in the Red Sea port of Aqaba into a haven for multi-billion dollar investments, was appointed by the king on Thursday to replace Marouf al-Bakheet, who resigned following last week’s parliamentary election.

The election, marred by accusations of vote buying and fraud, consolidated the power of tribal leaders, pro-government figures and businessmen in the 110-seat assembly.

Officials said the 28-member cabinet included a moderate Islamist figure, technocrats, businessmen and four women to widen its national appeal.

The cabinet line-up is likely to continue Jordan’s free market reforms that critics say have deepened the divide between rich and poor, and to maintain traditional support for U.S. policies in the region, officials have said.

The cabinet’s make up is meant to win public support among a restive population, angry about curtailed freedoms that the former government has justified on security grounds.

Officials say Abdullah will count on Dahabi’s track record to win support for his economic and social reforms among the conservative establishment, the backbone of the king’s power base, which fears accelerated reforms could erode its grip on power.

Bassem Awadallah, a U.S. educated Jordanian of Palestinian origin and King Abdullah’s closest adviser, who has challenged the conservative establishment by pushing a pro-Western reform agenda, will have a bigger say in shaping reforms as head of the royal court, officials said. 

They say the monarch’s consolidation of his reign depends on whether the government can improve living conditions which most Jordanians complain have worsened.

Constitutionally, most powers rest with the king, who appoints governments, approves legislation and can dissolve parliament.

Jordan’s Islamist opposition, strident opponents of Israel, independent politicians and liberals say successive governments have failed to deliver greater political liberalization.

The king is counting on a renewed U.S. drive to bring Middle East peace and a stable Iraq to deliver prosperity to Jordan. But wider violence in the region may wreck such hopes, officials said.

Bakheet, drawn from the ranks of the powerful security establishment, has since 2005 stepped up a crackdown to curb the growing influence of mainstream Islamists by introducing curbs on freedom of expression, including tougher anti-terrorism laws.

The new premier will have to address ways to boost the economy after a slowdown.

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