Jordan swears in new conservative-dominated cabinet

AMMAN Wed May 2, 2012 7:36pm BST

Jordan's Prime Minister Fayez al-Tarawneh speaks to the media after the swearing-in ceremony at Raghadan Palace in Amman May 2, 2012. Jordan's King Abdullah swore in a government dominated by conservatives under new Prime Minister al-Tarawneh on Wednesday and tasked it with preparing parliamentary elections expected later this year. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Jordan's Prime Minister Fayez al-Tarawneh speaks to the media after the swearing-in ceremony at Raghadan Palace in Amman May 2, 2012. Jordan's King Abdullah swore in a government dominated by conservatives under new Prime Minister al-Tarawneh on Wednesday and tasked it with preparing parliamentary elections expected later this year.

Credit: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah swore in a new government on Wednesday dominated by conservatives after the former prime minister resigned in a move politicians attributed to a power struggle with the security services.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Tarawneh was installed after the surprise resignation last week of Awn Khasawneh, a respected international jurist, and was given the task of organising new parliamentary elections as a first order of business.

Politicians say the monarch privately has said his reformist agenda has been frustrated by conservative politicians who hold extensive power within the security establishment and are bent on preventing Islamists from capitalising on their wider regional gains in the aftermath of the wave of Arab revolts.

During his six months in office, Khasawneh had tried to persuade the Islamist opposition to drop their boycott of future elections which the monarch has proposed to be held before the end of the year to accelerate Arab Spring-inspired reforms.

Islamists, who constitute the country's largest political party, say election rules favour tribal East Bank constituencies and rural areas over the largely Palestinian populated cities, which are Islamic strongholds.

King Abdullah appointed Tarawneh, a U.S.-educated politician who has previously held several senior government posts, on Thursday and asked him to speed elections which the monarch blamed Khaswaneh for slowing.

Suleiman al-Hafez, a former minister, was appointed finance minister, replacing Ummaya Toukan, a pro-reformist who had won the respect of international donors and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during a long career as a central banker and stock exchange head.

The government change was prompted by domestic considerations and was not expected to affect Jordan's pro-Western foreign-policy orientation. Veteran Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh kept his post.

Politicians say Khasawneh had been entangled in a struggle over prerogatives with the intelligence services, or mukhabarat, who have been accused in recent years of extending their pervasive influence in public life.

The powerful mukhabarat were said to be unhappy with Khasawneh's handling of a major anti-corruption campaign that resulted in many judicial probes against senior officials.

Khasawneh also proposed electoral reforms that drew fire from many sides. Tribal lawmakers felt they favoured Islamists, while some Islamists were unhappy because a proposed party list system might have curbed the number of seats they could win.

FOURTH PM IN 14 MONTHS

Tarawneh is Jordan's fourth prime minister in 14 months. King Abdullah has often changed governments to shore up tribal support, a backbone of his monarchy, and placate protesters inspired by pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world.

Tarawneh faces an uphill battle to ease the negative effects of the Arab Spring on Jordan's aid-dependent economy.

A chronic budget deficit has been aggravated by extra social spending to appease the country's tribal power base and prevent the eruption of civil unrest witnessed in past decades.

Officials privately have trimmed growth forecasts to about 2.5 percent this year.

Politicians say King Abdullah has been forced to take only cautious steps towards democracy as the monarch's tribal power base has pushed for a reversal of free-market reforms seen as a threat to its political and economic benefits.

They fear liberalisation will erode their grip on power in favour of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, a majority of the country's seven million population who are economically influential but are excluded from political life.

Some recent tribal protests have criticised the royal family, a rare event in a country where the king has long been revered and held to be above politics.

The unprecedented criticism from the monarch's traditional power base who provide the bulk of manpower for the army and security forces has posed a threat to the stability of the monarchy, analysts say.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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