By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) - King Abdullah swore in a new government on Thursday led by reformist politician Abdullah Ensour and charged with preparing for Jordan's first post-Arab Spring parliamentary elections.
Prime Minister Ensour, 73, has held a string of senior ministerial posts in more than two decades of public office but has backed opposition calls for wider reforms.
He was appointed by the king on Wednesday to replace Fayez al-Tarawneh, a week after the tribal parliament was dissolved half-way through its four-year term. Elections must be held within four months.
Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh and Finance Minister Suleiman al-Hafez, who negotiated a $2 billion loan from the IMF, kept their posts in a smaller, 21-member cabinet dominated by conservative politicians who held sway in previous governments. They are drawn from tribal areas that are the backbone of the army and security forces.
Only three ministers are of Palestinian origin, the majority of Jordan's seven million population who are under-represented in government and the parliament but whose business elite dominates the economy.
Ensour said his main task was to prepare for elections and restore public confidence in a system that has long been marred by accusations of meddling by the authorities.
"The main challenge is holding free and fair elections," he said.
The elections will go ahead without the participation of the Islamists, the only effective opposition, who have boycotted the polls saying they want a more democratic electoral law.
The Islamists say the law gives pro-government tribes in sparsely populated provincial areas a much bigger allocation of parliamentary seats than their own strongholds in cities where Palestinians dominate.
The monarch who has ruled since 1999, was forced to make steps towards more democracy in response to protests inspired by regional revolts. But he has been constrained by a tribal power base which sees reforms as a threat to political and economic benefits.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)