Jordan’s King Abdullah II has sworn in a new government led by Prime Minister Bisher al-Khaswaneh that is facing an uphill task to revive growth in an economy facing a sharp economic crisis aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Khasawneh, 51, was designated on Wednesday to replace Omar al-Razzaz, who was appointed in the summer of 2018 to defuse the biggest protests in years over tax increases sought by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce Jordan’s large public debt.
The swearing-in ceremony on Monday came at a time of rising popular discontent about worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Coming from a family that has long held senior political posts, Khasawneh has spent most of his public career as a diplomat, and most recently acted as a policy adviser to the kind.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Finance Minister Mohamad al-Ississ, who oversees the country’s reform programme with the IMF, kept their posts in a 32-member cabinet dominated by a mix of technocrats and conservative politicians who held sway in previous governments.
Jordan grapples with its worst economic crisis in many years, with unemployment and poverty worsened by the pandemic.
To date, the country has registered 24,926 coronavirus cases and 191 related deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The government has been widely criticised for failing to contain a surge in the number of COVID-19 infections in recent weeks.
Khasawneh will oversee parliamentary elections due on November 10. The outgoing cabinet’s resignation was expected before the polls, as per the constitution.
Observers say a new assembly could help ease popular disenchantment about economic hardships and limits on civil and political freedoms under emergency laws.
Jordan, which is hosting more than 650,000 Syrian refugees, remains heavily reliant on foreign aid.
Historically, prime ministers have been appointed for as little as one month or as long as three years, mainly to enact specific laws or resolve domestic or regional crises, after which they were dismissed.