Last updated: 17 October, 2011

Jordan PM Maaruf Bakhit resigns

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Monday pushed ahead with his political reform plans, appointing a new prime minister and intelligence chief after the government of Maaruf Bakhit failed to meet growing calls for change.

The king named International Court of Justice judge Awn Khasawneh, 61, as prime minister, telling him that his government’s “top priority is political reform.”

“Continuing political reform drive requires reconsidering and reviewing several laws in line with our new constitution, freedom, pluralism and rule of law,” the king said in a letter to Khasawneh, who has been a member of The Hague-based court since 2000.

“I am entrusting you to form a new government that would enhance reform and modernisation.”

The appointment followed the resignation earlier Monday of Bakhit, who was appointed in February, at the request of the monarch following growing public demands that his government resign.

“We have accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit, taking into consideration the views of the various sectors of society as well as a letter we have received from the parliamentary majority,” the king said.

Parliament is in recess, but around 70 MPs on Sunday signed a letter to the king, criticising the work of Bakhit. The document has not been made public.

“The appointment of Khasawneh seeks to restore public confidence in the government,” political analyst Mohammad Masri told AFP.

“The previous government has created a crisis for the regime, instead of solving problems.”

He cited the dismissal of the head of Central Bank last month, and a draft anti-corruption law seen by many as restrictive, as well as dealing violently with pro-reform protesters.

“Bakhit was finished in September, but it was for the king to find a suitable successor,” said Masri, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

On Saturday, unknown attackers hurled stones and fired shots to disperse participants at an anti-corruption conference in northern Jordan, injuring at least 35 people.

The attack has drawn the ire of the opposition, including Islamists, which has held “the regime responsible” for the incident, and called for “proving its good will.”

Khasawneh was to immediately begin consultations to form the new government, sources close to him said.

They added that he had “asked for guarantees that he fully assumes the prerogatives of prime minister as stipulated in the constitution.”

The king also on Monday appointed Major-General Feisal Shobaki as intelligence chief, replacing Mohamad Raqqad, who has held the position since 2008.

In August, the king held meetings with various Jordanian groups and spoke of a “tsunami” of change in top state posts to enhance his reform drive, according to those who attended the gatherings.

Jordan has been the scene of protests since January to demand sweeping economic and political reform.