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Middle East

Jordan's parliament chooses PM for first time

Move marks first time in country's history that head of government is decided by legislature rather than the king.
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2013 19:51
King Abdullah has in the past selected prime ministers, but he relinquished that right as part of reform package [EPA]

Jordan's parliament has voted for the monarchy's caretaker prime minister to form a new cabinet, the first time in the country's history that head of government is decided by the legislature rather than the king.

Abdullah Ensour, a former liberal legislator known for criticisms of the government when he was in parliament, was selected on Saturday as part of a reform programme aimed at defusing political unrest to stave off an Arab Spring-style uprising.

"We gave him the chance to remain in office and pick his cabinet from inside or outside parliament"

- Mohammed al-Haj, 
Head of the Islamist Centrist Party

But he is also committed enough to Abdullah's plan for cautious reforms to be the king's choice for prime minister in October, when the sitting government was dissolved prior to parliamentary elections.

Those elections were boycotted by the country's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, producing a legislature that has a contingent of conservative tribal legislators traditionally loyal to the king but also a surprisingly a large opposition bloc.

Mohammed al-Haj, head of the Islamic Centrist Party (ICP) which won the largest bloc of 16 seats in elections on January 23, said at least 80 out of 150 members of parliament voted for Ensour.

"We gave him the chance to remain in office and pick his cabinet from inside or outside parliament," al-Haj said.

Reform package

King Abdullah II formally confirmed Ensour's appointment. Abdullah has in the past selected prime ministers, but he relinquished that right as part of the reform package announced last year.

A government official said Ensour will name his cabinet this week, ahead of a regional tour by US President Barack Obama that includes a stopover in Jordan.

 Talk to Al Jazeera - Abdullah Ensour:
Jordan's winds of change

Once the cabinet is sworn in by the king, it will seek a parliamentary vote of confidence necessary to install it, said the official, speaking anonymously as he was not allowed to comment on matters related to cabinet formation.

In the letter that appointed Ensour, King Abdullah said the prime minister would remain in office for the next four years. Jordanians in street protests since the start of the Arab Spring have been critical of the king for changing his prime ministers frequently - at least four times in the past two years.

The king said the cabinet should pursue further liberalisation and decentralisation. He did not mention any specific changes, but the king has repeatedly referred to a controversial election law that the opposition says favours the conservative tribal candidates, and which was the cause of the Brotherhood's boycott.

Abdullah also said the cabinet should target the government bureaucracy, known for nepotism, corruption and
inefficiency. "We also want a white revolution in the public sector to improve its performance and skills, ensure transparency and better service to citizens," he said.

He also called for immediate plans to improve the ailing economy of his resource-barren nation, which depends on US aid to keep its economy afloat. Jordan is saddled by poverty, unemployment, a record budget deficit of $3bn last year resulting from a rising energy bill and the cost of hosting more than 420,000 Syrian refugees.

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