Jordanian PM's Abrupt Resignation Reveals Deep Political Crisis

Article Summary
Former Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Shakat Al-Khasawneh’s unexpected resignation during his official trip to Turkey shocked politicians and society alike. In his place, King Abdullah II appointed Fayez al-Tarawneh to head a government that is falling out of popularity with its people amid a worsening political crisis. Tamer al-Samadi reports.

Prime Minister Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh’s abrupt resignation shocked Jordanian politicians and society. Al-Khasawneh resigned on an official mission abroad.

According to observers and politicians, this resignation changes the political lineup and reflects the deep political crisis that decision-makers face in a country that has been witnessing escalating protests for over a year, following the path of the Arab spring revolutions.

The resignation was unique because it lacked the usual condemning language. What's more, a minister submitted the resignation on behalf of the Prime Minister, who was in Turkey.  It was remarkably worded, and al-Khasawneh concluded it by saying: "May God guide you toward what is best for you."

Political sources interviewed by Al-Hayat automatically linked al-Khasawneh's resignation to his ongoing disputes with Jordanian King Abdullah II over the parliamentary elections. While the King insisted on holding the elections this year, the now-resigned Prime Minister believed that establishing an electoral law is more important than setting a date for the elections.

The accepted resignation coincided with a royal decree that extended the regular session of the parliament by two months, since the prime minister was about to hold an extraordinary session with the king’s consent.

Sources close to al-Khasawneh say that he was angry when he learned that the king summoned two ministers from his government to sign this royal decree in his absence. Sources say that al-Khasawneh complained several times that there are "shadow governments" competing with his government for its general mandate. The same sources say that he was upset for not being able to release the detainees from the popular uprising aimed at reform, although he said he was urgently pressing for their release. The detainees were only released following a royal pardon from King Abdullah.

The dispute between the government and the king concludes a series of disputes within the country’s official institutions. Arguments were particularly heated between the resigned prime minister and Intelligence Chief Faisal Shobaki, who repeatedly clashed after al-Khasawneh threatened to resign twice before.

Al-Khasawneh, an international jurist, repeatedly opposed the escalation of force against the opposition, which is led by the Islamic movement. This prompted security officials to accuse him, in front of the king, of favoring the Muslim Brotherhood over the country’s interests.

Al-Khasawneh’s government is the third to resign since the outbreak of protests demanding reform. Samir Rifai’s government resigned early February 2011. Afterwards, the King designated Marouf Bakhit as prime minister of a government. He resigned in October of last year and was succeeded by al-Khasawneh's government.

According to political sources, Jordan is now facing a political crisis. It has failed to implement political reforms, even amid an economic crisis during which the government was preparing to raise gas and energy prices.

Sources say that, ironically, the new Prime Minister Fayez Al-Tarawneh was the minister of supply in Zeid Rifai’s government, which was dismissed by late King Hussein Bin Talal following the bloody protests of 1989 in the city of Ma'an and other southern cities, which were known as the "April Uprising.” Al-Tarawneh is now back in power following the popular revival of the April Uprising and the current state of popular unrest.

According to political elites, al-Tarawneh is a conservative right-wing man. He once headed the Royal Court and the government before the death of King Hussein. A prominent politician described al-Tarawneh as politically "lenient."

Notably, al-Tarawneh is the second Prime Minister that the King has designated a second time, the first being former Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit.

The Jordanian king confirmed on April 27 that the formation of the new government "is subject" to implementing the necessary reforms for holding parliamentary elections before the end of this year. The king made this statement a day after he accepted al-Khasawneh’s resignation, keeping in mind that he was appointed six months ago to implement reforms in a country that has been witnessing demonstrations and protests demanding political, economic and anti-corruption reforms since January 2011.

The king openly accused the resigned prime minister of being slow to implementing reform. In fact, he told him in a letter, "this is a critical stage and we are committed to our people and the world to achieve the desired reform, but we do not have much time."

On the ground, the opposition does not seem worried about al-Khasawneh’s resignation, nor the appointment of Fayez Tarawneh as his successor. However, al-Tarawneh’s appointment was met with angry and immediate demonstrations on Friday afternoon in a number of provinces demanding his dismissal before he enters the Fourth Circle, where the government is based. Demonstrators were excessively critical of these decision-makers.

Salem al-Falahat, former observer of the Muslim Brotherhood, says "the regime's insistence on appointing prime ministers is increasingly enraging the people." According to him, "the situation in the country is highly flammable and only needs someone to light a match." He said that "the country is grappling with a crisis of governance, not government."

Prominent opposition leader Leith Shbeilat, who has always been critical of the Jordanian regime, said that the Kingdom "is heading toward one-man rule," and that "there are no institutions controlling Jordan."

Following al-Khasawneh's resignation, Shbeilat issued a statement saying that "the country is heading toward devastating rule."

However, according to author Sultan al-Hattab, the King responded to popular demands by "dismissing" the government. According to him, the last three governments “failed to implement any reform."

He also said that “al-Khasawneh’s government reached an impasse on reform because nobody accepted its proposed electoral law, since all of the other laws it submitted were doomed to fail.” According to him, the king does not seek confrontation with Jordanian society because he appointed three governments, and they all resigned without being able to establish a single plan for reform. He said that the king "responded to popular demand, and when he found that the government was stagnant, he dismissed it."

Political analyst and former adviser to Marouf Bakhit’s government, Maher Abu Tair, said that al-Khasawneh's resignation shocked officials and society. He went so far as to say that the resignation was intended to "blackmail the institution, which explains why the Jordanian monarch immediately approved the resignation."

Mohammed al-Masri, a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) at the University of Jordan, said that "al-Khasawneh's recent decision is strange and surprising. It indicates that there is a political stalemate within the Jordanian state," since both the resignation and appointment following it was more of "a reaction." According to al-Masri, "al-Tarawneh does not have a convincing record of a prime minister who is capable of heeding popular demands and implementing reforms." He added, "It is well-known to all that al-Tarawneh is not politically tolerant. Therefore, he will face many challenges in persuading the people that he is capable of implementing reform."

Six months ago, political circles said that al-Khasawneh's now-resigned government was Jordan’s "last chance” to adopt consensual reforms and escape this crisis.

Found in: parliamentary elections, marouf al-bakhit, king abdullah ii, center for strategic studies, al-khasawaneh’s government

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