October 10, 2012 / 11:44 AM / 7 years ago

Jordan's king appoints PM to prepare for elections

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan’s King Abdullah appointed reformist politician Abdullah Ensour as prime minister on Wednesday to prepare for the country’s first post-Arab Spring parliamentary election.

King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussein of Jordan addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

The monarch had dissolved Jordan’s tribally dominated parliament last week, half-way through its four-year term, paving the way for an early election that should be held within four months under constitutional reforms enacted last year.

The reforms, introduced under pressure from protests inspired by the wider Arab uprisings, curbed the monarch’s political powers.

The U.S.- and French-educated Ensour, who replaces Fayez al-Tarawneh, another veteran politician, has a long career as a lawmaker and has held senior government posts in successive administrations.

He was a strong supporter of the constitutional changes that Abdullah endorsed last year devolving some of his powers to parliament, which opposition figures say had become sidelined, and restoring some executive powers which had shifted from the government to the palace and security forces.

“We have called for early elections and we are looking forward to a new parliament that will pave the way for the transformation towards parliamentary governments,” the king told Ensour in his letter of designation.

Although Jordan has seen protests by tribal and Islamist opposition demanding the king fight corruption and calling for wider political freedoms, the authorities have so far managed to contain wider discontent.

In a country where the monarchy is a guarantor of stability among feuding tribes who seek his protection and acts as a balance between the country’s Palestinians and East Bank native Jordanians, no one wants to topple the king.

Many still see the U.S.-backed king as the ultimate guarantee of stability in the country of 7 million, torn between a minority tribal population long used to preferential treatment in state jobs and a majority of Palestinian descent.

Under pressure to accelerate political reforms, Abdullah had asked Tarawneh’s government to push through parliament an electoral law that would allow wider representation and could have prevented a boycott by Islamists - who have refused to take part in a vote under the existing electoral law.

Tribal lawmakers, who oppose the Islamists and dominated the last parliament, resisted any change which they saw undermining their influence and instead endorsed a system that favours sparsely populated tribal regions which benefit most from state patronage and form the backbone of support for the monarchy.

However analysts say some of the constitutional changes, including the establishment of an independent electoral commission and constitutional court, are expected to lead to a more impartial vote than previous elections which they said have been marred by interference by powerful security forces.

Officials say they hope the coming election will pave the way for a prime minister to emerge from a majority bloc in parliament, which is made up mainly of pro-monarchy parties and some independent Islamists, rather than handpicked by the monarch as in the past.

ISLAMISTS EXCLUSION RISK STABILIY

Political commentators say real change requires the electoral system to address discrimination against citizens of Palestinian origin, who are under-represented in parliament and the state but whose business elite are pillars of the economy.

Their resentment at their political exclusion could strengthen the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, with a strong following among Palestinians living in camps and poor cities.

The state extracts more taxes from Jordanians of Palestinian origin who feel increasingly abandoned by the state.

In contrast native Jordanians who depend on state jobs and are the backbone of the security forces and state bureaucracy have become the focus of government’s largesse.

Some analysts say coming elections could further polarise the country, with a parliament that is seen as serving East Bankers further alienates citizens of Palestinian origin.

With only two million of the country’s 3.7 million eligible voters having signed up for registration, this could mean that less than 30 percent would have a say in selecting the next assembly, according to David Schenker from the Washington Institute.

So far pliant and shunning politics, their continued exclusion from any future discourse on Jordan’s future bodes ill for the country’s long term stability, they say.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan

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