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Jordan forming government in the midst of economic and health crisis

Bisher al-Khasauneh will be the new prime minister who will face a (short) term of office full of challenges until November elections.
Abdullah II

CHRIS SETIAN/ROYAL HASHEMITE  -   King Abdullah II of Jordan attends the opening ceremony of the fourth ordinary session of Parliament

King Abdullah II has decided to assign his most direct advisor to face a legislature that could last only a month. Jordan's newly appointed prime minister, Bisher al-Khasauneh, was sworn in yesterday along with his cabinet at a time when the Arab country is experiencing a serious economic crisis as a result of the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

The new executive, made up of 32 ministers, includes Nathir Obeidat, spokesman for the National Epidemic Committee, who now holds the position of Health Minister and is responsible for the health management of the pandemic in the country. 

On September 27 King Abdullah II announced the dissolution of the Jordanian Parliament after Prime Minister Omar al-Razaz resigned from his post owing to social pressure and mismanagement of the pandemic. 

In his letter of resignation, Razzaz said his government has succeeded at times and made mistakes as well, but tried to course-correct in service of Jordan and its citizens.

King Abdullah appointed Omar al-Razaz as prime minister in the summer of 2018 to defuse protests in the Jordanian kingdom over the tax increases (at the request of the International Monetary Fund) implemented by former prime minister Hani Mulki to reduce the country's significant public debt.   

Since then, people' rejection of the economic recipes has been constant from the time Mr Mulki addressed the problem up to the time Al-Razaz assumed responsibility for it. It remains to be seen how Al-Jasauneh will manage the situation, as his mandate is full of economic and health management uncertainties.

Hope and doubts among Jordanians in the face of a too short legislature with strict restrictions against the coronavirus

Al-Jasauneh has previously served as direct political advisor to King Abdullah II and he is the third prime minister of Jordan in less than four years. Both the king and the country have high hopes for him. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Finance Minister Mohamed al-Isis have maintained their positions in this new government.

In principle, this legislature will last just over a month, as elections are scheduled for November 10. "The Board of Commissioners of the Independent Electoral Commission has decided to set November 10 as the date for the parliamentary elections," the body said at the end of July through its official online account. 

This new Executive was sworn in at a time when the Hashemite Kingdom is recording the highest figures for coronaviruses since the outbreak of the pandemic, with around 1,000 infections a day. 

Jordan managed to control the spread of the coronavirus over a four-month period from March, with the imposition of some of the world's toughest restrictions, including a total closure of the country and a ban on people leaving their homes even to go shopping. So far, the country has recorded a total of 24,926 cases and 191 deaths, according to the latest data reported by the Ministry of Health. 

Earlier this month, the Jordanian authorities decided to impose a total 48-hour closure on the country every weekend (Friday and Saturday) until further notice, a measure that puts a strain on Jordan's economy, which is expected to contract by 3.7 per cent by 2020, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates.

The neighbouring conflicts, the influx of refugees and the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic have left the Jordanian economy in a critical situation, which has led the government to request several loans from the IMF in recent years, since the country's public debt is around 99% of the gross domestic product (GDP).  

Political management in Jordan must not be easy; in less than nine years seven prime ministers have been in the cabinet. Jordanian politics are still closely linked to the figure of King Abdullah II. Senators are handpicked by the monarch, as is the prime minister, who must form a cabinet with prior approval of the monarch. 

The constitution does not provide a strong system of checks and balances within which the Jordanian Parliament can assert its role in relation to the king. During the suspension of Parliament between 2001 and 2003, the extent of King Abdullah II's power was demonstrated by the passage of 110 temporary laws. Two of these laws dealt with electoral law and were created to reduce the power of Parliament.