Jordan King Swears in New Reform-Mandated Govt.


A new Jordanian cabinet led by judge Awn Khasawneh took the oath of office before King Abdullah II on Monday, as analysts warned his government could be a last ditch effort for reform.

The king swore in the new 30-strong cabinet of Khasawneh, an International Court of Justice judge, who pledged to push ahead with political reform "at this critical stage of Jordan's history," the state-run Petra news agency reported.

"The government will coordinate with all political powers and civil society groups in Jordan to prepare laws that govern political life and insure democracy, justice, transparency and integrity," Khasawneh told the king in a letter on Monday, adding that "fair elections are key to democracy."

The new cabinet includes 25 new ministers, among them Umayya Tukan, a former Central Bank governor, for the finance portfolio and Mohammed Raud as interior minister, and two women, at higher education and social development.

The line-up, in which Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh kept his portfolio and veteran journalist Rakan Majali became information minister, does not include opposition Islamists who refused to join Khasawneh's team.

Analysts, however, were cautious about the new government.

"At this phase, this government cannot afford to fail introducing more reforms. Its failure means failure of the entire reform process and serious conflict between the state and people," Fahed Kheitan, editor of Al-Arab Al-Yawm independent Arabic daily, told Agence France Presse.

"To avoid such a scenario, Khasawneh's government must succeed because it is the last chance."

Kheitan said he was "doubtful that the new team would be able to fulfill this mission."

The king a week earlier dismissed prime minister Maarouf Bakhit's government and replaced him with Khasawneh, 61, an International Court of Justice judge, instructing him to focus on political reform.

"Expectations were very high after the appointment of Khasawneh, but now the mood is gloomy," said Mohammed Masri, a researcher at the University of Jordan Center for Strategic Studies.

"The government has two or three weeks to prove itself and convince people that it is efficient and serious in order to defuse tensions."

Masri said the new cabinet "must prove that it is different from previous governments and impose the rule of law."

Jordan has been the scene of protests since January to demand sweeping economic and political reform. Bakhit's government has been accused of failing to introduce needed change.

"People's reaction will either be neutral or pessimistic about the new government, regardless of the names, because of the mechanism under which the ministers were chosen -- which was based on personal relationships and not political affiliations," said political analyst Mohammed Momani.

"Khasawneh is a respected judge, but we are in a phase that requires political experience. I wonder if he can effectively engage in politics."

For Masri, "in order to overcome criticism of names issue, the prime minister must act quickly and put an end to several problems, including violence and intimidation" against pro-reform movements.

The new premier is the third this year to form a government.

"Reaching a point to have a fourth prime minister would prove that the state is not serious about reforms," Kheitan said.