November 24, 2005

Jordan’s king appoints new PM

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah appointed his
national security chief as prime minister on Thursday,
underscoring the king's desire to give security forces a bigger
role in decision making, a senior official said.

The official said the monarch asked Marouf Bakheet, 58, a
former ambassador to Israel with a long career in military
intelligence, to form a new government to address security
concerns after triple suicide bombings killed 60 people.

Former Prime Minister Adnan Badran, 69, a U.S.-educated
academic appointed last April, and his government resigned
after he was criticized for pushing a pro-Western reform agenda
while ignoring tribal sensitivities.

Although the changes had long been expected, security
concerns have become a priority after the November 9 bombings
at three luxury hotels, claimed by Al Qaeda wing in Iraq,
headed by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Bakheet's appointment also signals the monarch wants to
give more influence to old-guard military figures with a
reputation for integrity and untainted by corruption, senior
officials say.

Officials say the monarch will count on Bakheet to win
support for his economic and political reforms among the
powerful conservative establishment -- the backbone of the
monarch's power base -- which fears accelerated reforms could
lead to an erosion of its grip on power.

"He (Bakheet) will balance security concerns with the need
to push forward His Majesty's reform agenda to move the country
toward greater political liberties," said one senior official.

Bakheet is expected to form his government in the next few


The government change was part of a wider reshuffle that
had been planned for months, including a shake-up of the royal
court to bring in new advisors and the appointment of a new
upper house with seasoned politicians to redress an imbalance
against tribal politicians.

King Abdullah surprised many when he appointed Badran to
succeed Faisal al-Fayez, blamed by politicians for several
policy blunders, including mismanagement of government

Tough parliamentary criticism of Badran's performance has
been viewed as the most direct challenge to Abdullah since he
assumed the throne in 1999.

In the summer, Badran had to succumb to tribal pressure and
accept the resignation of Bassem Awadallah, the king's favorite
modernizer, and the driving force behind accelerated reforms.

Political insiders say the king had been very frustrated
with conservative politicians wielding extensive powers, who
had tried to put the brakes on democratic reforms fearing they
may dilute the influence of their Bedouin power base.

They fear the king would promote changes in the electoral
law which reformers say could give Palestinians bigger
representation in parliament, now dominated by tribal
politicians long seen as the backbone of the king's support.

Most powers rest with the king, who appoints governments,
approves legislation and can dissolve parliament.