Jordan cabinet reshuffle solidifies PM Ensour's mandate

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 02, 2015 9:08 AM

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced a cabinet reshuffle on Monday that will solidify his mandate to accelerate economic reforms seen as crucial to meet the U.S.-allied country's challenges.

The move affected the planning, tourism, labor, energy, industry, telecommunications and higher education portfolios. It left the key interior, finance and foreign ministers in place and maintained a lineup dominated by a mix of technocrats, conservative politicians and tribal loyalists.

Until reform-minded Ensour was appointed by King Abdullah in October 2012, the country was beset with constant government changes that critics say have hampered decision making.

Some officials say the reshuffle was a sign the monarch, who appoints prime ministers, was happy with the performance of the government of the U.S. and French-trained economist.

Ensour took office the height of an economic crisis when the heavily indebted country came close to the brink of insolvency, forcing authorities to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $2 billion standby arrangement.

Shortly after taking up his post, Ensour imposed unpopular cuts in fuel and hikes in electricity that sparked violent protests but were needed as part of the budget tightening required under the IMF deal.

Ensour's willingness to take bold measures has helped cut the deficit and raise growth, which is set to reach four percent in 2015 despite the strain of receiving a flood of over 600,000 U.N.-registered Syrian refugees.

He has faced criticism from the conservative establishment dominating parliament, which accuses him of a pro-Western reform agenda that promotes harsh IMF-dictated cuts in subsidies that will worsen the plight of lower-income households and the poor.

Jordan, which has stepped up its role in the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State militants, risks being drawn into a long conflict with radicals threatening the country's internal stability.

Some worry this overtly pro-Western role could bring a backlash by home-grown militants who may target the kingdom.

Ensour has also been accused by liberals and Islamist opponents alike of failing to improve governance and or pursuing genuine political reforms.

The past year saw a tough crackdown on political dissent as the powerful security force, emboldened by the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, imposed more restrictions on the Jordanian offshoot of the Islamist group.

The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is the main opposition group in a country where most legally established parties are pro-government loyalist groups.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Tom Heneghan)