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Jordan gets trim govt to cut spending, Islamists unhappy

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

King Abdullah II swore in a trim cabinet line-up of 19 members on Saturday led by reformist Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur, who merged several portfolios to cut spending but failed to satisfy opposition Islamists.

The new government, the smallest in Jordan in more than four decades, comprises 14 newcomers including a woman.

The key interior ministry changed hands but veteran diplomat Nasser Judeh remains at the helm of the foreign ministry for the sixth time in a row.

Earlier this month, the king reappointed Nsur following unprecedented consultations between the palace and the 150-member parliament, tasking him to form his second government since October.

Nsur told Jordan Television after the ceremony that he plans to reshuffle his cabinet to include MPs as part of the parliamentary government "experience."

"This government was born after consultations with deputies who will be part of the government in the coming months as part of the parliamentary government experience. We want this to succeed in order to boost reform," he said.

Police chief Hussein Majali, who enjoys a good reputation for not using excessive force against pro-reform protesters, was given the ministries of interior and municipal affairs.

"The goal of forming such a trim cabinet is to cut government spending," said Mohammad Momani, a university professor who was handed the information ministry as well as the ministries of political development and parliamentary affairs.

"This government has the smallest ministerial team since 1967," Momani, who was formerly adviser to the premier, told AFP after the swearing in ceremony.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition group which boycotted the January 23 general election, said the new government will not be able to introduce change.

"The king still names prime ministers; the consultations with MPs were cosmetic because they had no clear opinion, so nothing changed," Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of the Brotherhood, told AFP.

"This government lacks any elements related to parliament, political parties or reform. Therefore, it will not introduce real democratic reform. It will be a failure just like past governments."

Nsur tendered the resignation of his 21-member government in January following the election, which was won by people close to the regime, businessmen and tribal leaders.

Newcomers include a woman, Reem Abu Hassan, a lawyer who was the secretary general of the National Council for Family Affairs, and now heads the social development ministry.

Also new to the government is Carnegie Endowment for International Peace economist Ibrahim Saif, a specialist on the economies of the Middle East, who was given the ministries of planning, tourism and antiquities.

Oraib Rintawi, director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, said the "issue is not about the number of ministers in this government, it is about the fact that the outcome of the polls did not reflect on the composition of the cabinet.

"It has been proven that the talks with MPs were superficial. The composition of government was nothing out of the ordinary, despite regional turmoil and economic hardship. Nothing really changed."

But political analyst Labib Kamhawi suggested the leaner team indicates that that it will focus on economy and austerity measures.

"The new government was in a way an indirect response to public demands to cut spending and face the current high prices and bad economy," he told AFP.

Nsur, 73, an outspoken MP and senator who held several key government portfolios in the 1980s and 1990s, is a vocal proponent of reform.

Jordanians have held Arab Spring-inspired protests since 2011, demanding sweeping political and economic change as well as a tough anti-corruption fight.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130330/jordan-gets-trim-govt-cut-spending-islamists-unhappy