Jordan’s King Abdullah to ask PM to resign amid protests: Sources

Jordan’s King Abdullah II expected to meet PM Hani al-Mulki later on Monday as protests continue over tax increases.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II is expected to ask Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki to resign amid widespread anger over price hikes and an income tax reform bill, sources told Al Jazeera.

For a fourth consecutive day, thousands of Jordanians converged in the capital, Amman, demonstrating on Sunday night against IMF-backed price increases and a tax reform bill sent to parliament last month.

The protests, which also took place in main provincial towns, are the biggest the kingdom has seen in years. Demonstrators have been convening near the cabinet office, chanting and calling for the removal of Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki, whose government proposed raising income tax by at least five percent.

Mulki assumed office in 2016 and was responsible for improving the country’s economy amid regional turmoil and a refugee crisis.

He is expected to meet King Abdullah II later on Monday in the Royal Palace.

Hiba Quntar, a member of Jordan’s press syndicate, told Al Jazeera that people took to the streets to make their voices heard.

“Today is going to be different in terms of what happens in the street and also on a decision-making level,” Quntar added from Amman.

According to Quntar, Mulki’s replacement is expected to be the country’s education minister – Omar al-Razzaz – a more “likable” and “accepted” character among the Jordanian people.

Jordan has long suffered from economic problems and remains heavily reliant on foreign aid. Earlier this year, Jordanians demanded the removal of bread subsidies and protested a sales tax hike.

According to Rami Khouri, a senior fellow and professor at the American University of Beirut, these problems are structural in nature.

“The government can’t keep up with the economic growth rate to provide jobs or with the expenditures to provide essential services such as housing, security, and education,” he told Al Jazeera.

As part of a series of economic reforms to decrease Jordan’s national debt of $37bn, which is equivalent to 95 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), the government introduced price hikes on basic commodities that have incensed many Jordanians.

The cost of fuel has increased five times in 2018, and electricity bills have shot up to 55 percent.

Amman is the most expensive Arab city to live in, according to a recent report published by The Economist.

These measures stem from the $723m three-year credit line that the government secured from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.

The income tax reform bill, which has yet to be approved by parliament, is aimed at raising taxes on employees by at least five percent and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.

“Consecutive governments have been dealing with the Jordanian citizens with total disregard, no accountability and no sense of the concept of social justice,” said Lamis Andoni, an independent journalist based in Amman.

“The income tax was just the trigger that just brought everything to the surface and united many people.”

The protests in Amman are mostly led by the Communist party and the Hirak Shababi, or youth movement, an independently affiliated group.

While protests in the capital have been peaceful, in some provinces protesters closed down main roads by setting tyres on fire and threw rocks at the police.

A majority of 78 out of parliament’s 130 representatives are opposed to the income tax law.

Unions representing tens of thousands of employees in both the public and private sectors have also called for a general strike on Wednesday, if the people’s demands are not met by then.

The government says it needs more funds for public services and argues that tax changes reduce social inequalities by placing a heavier load on high earners almost exclusively.

Experts say the IMF-imposed fiscal consolidation plan has worsened the situation for poorer Jordanian citizens, and is catching up to the country’s middle class.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies