Jordan's king appoints new PM ahead of elections
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's King Abdullah II appointed a veteran independent politician on Wednesday as his new caretaker prime minister ahead of parliamentary elections — the last time he will make such an appointment, according to his own reform plan.
The appointment of Abdullah Ensour is part of the king's political roadmap that addresses popular pressure for a broader role in decision-making. It paves the way for elections scheduled for the end of this year or early 2013. That parliament will choose the next prime minister.
The changes were decreed by Abdullah earlier this year to transfer more power to elected bodies and forestall any chance of an Arab Spring-style uprising similar to those that toppled regimes elsewhere in the region.
Ensour, a 73-year-old former lawmaker and deputy prime minister, is identified with the Arab nationalist trend in Jordanian politics but also has good ties with the Islamist opposition.
"Ensour's government is the last before Jordan's transition to parliamentary governments," a statement from the royal palace said.
He replaces Fayez Tarawneh, who resigned as mandated by the king's constitutional changes, which stipulate that the Cabinet must step down if parliament was dissolved. The legislature was disbanded last week, halfway through its four-year term, setting the stage for the upcoming elections.
Jordan has weathered 22 months of street protests calling for a wider public say in politics. The protests have been small compared to mass uprisings elsewhere in the region, which have led to four Arab leaders being deposed so far. The king has addressed them by giving up some of his powers, such as transferring to parliament the right to pick the prime minister.
The king however will still retain many powers, heading all three branches of government as well as the military. It is assumed that he will continue to set key policies, including foreign and security.
The next moves will see an independent electoral commission, recently formed as part of the reforms, set the date of the elections and supervise them — responsibilities that were previously in the hands of the Cabinet.
The opposition continues to hold protests, saying that the election law favors locally-based conservative candidates rather than parties with an ideological base. The Islamists are boycotting the polls. The government says it has adopted a globally recognized system of elections, and that the Islamists' alternative would inflate their own representation.
Few opposition groups, however, question whether Jordan should remain a monarchy.
Abdullah changed 42 articles, or one-third of Jordan's 60-year-old constitution. In addition to the changes involving parliament and elections, he also created a constitutional court to monitor the application of the law.
Other moves included a political party law that encourages a multiparty system, a municipality law that allows Jordanians to govern their towns by electing mayors and city councils, a regulation lifting restrictions on rallies and public gatherings, and reforms allowing a teachers' union to be formed for the first time ever.
It was not immediately clear when Ensour would form his Cabinet, but it is expected to be within days.