Jordan PM quits over tax protests, reformer named successor

Police officers secure the office of Jordan's prime minister during a protest in Amman. (Reuters)

Jordan's King Abdullah II on Monday accepted the resignation of his embattled prime minister and named a leading reformer in his place, hoping to quell the largest anti-government protests in recent years that are also seen as a potential challenge to his two-decade-old rule.

Prime Minister Hani Mulki's resignation came after several days of mass protests across Jordan against a planned tax increase and a series of price hikes of basics such as fuel and electricity in recent months.

It was not immediately clear if Mulki's departure and the reported appointment of Education Minister Omar Razzaz as his replacement would suffice to defuse growing public anger against the government. The Harvard-educated Razzaz is seen as a leading reformer.

Jordan's king is the ultimate decision-maker on policy, but also positions himself as a unifying force above the political fray. He has frequently reshuffled or disbanded governments as a way of quieting criticism.

The dismissal of Mulki was demanded in a series of protests against IMF-backed tax increases that have shaken the kingdom. The sources said King Abdullah had ordered Malichi for an audience in his palace later on Monday.

Mulki, a business-friendly politician, was appointed in May 2016 and given the responsibility of reviving a sluggish economy and business sentiment hit by regional turmoil.

Public anger over IMF-driven government policies has grown since a steep general sales tax hike earlier this year and the abolition of bread subsidies, a staple item for the poor.

The increases have caused Mulki's popularity to plummet.

Tens of thousands of Jordanians took to the street over the weekend in protest of government-led economic reforms.

The protests began Thursday night with the breaking of the Ramadan fast. Thousands of protesters took to the streets across the kingdom – In the Irbid and Jarash provinces, the cities of Amman, Aqaba, Salt, Al-Karak and the Jordan Rift area – demanding to cancel the raising of taxes and staple food, which they claim will increase poverty and distress.

Several hundreds of protesters demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister's Office in Amman. They blamed the government for deepening poverty and accused leaders of trying to close the budget deficit with draconian decisions at the expense of the working class. Despite the protesters' rage, it seemed in most cases that security forces are showing restraint, and that protesters themselves are trying to avoid physical confrontations with them.

On Friday, King Abdullah II intervened and ordered to delay the decisions to raise petrol prices. The royal palace is also communicating with the protest organizers in an attempt to calm the storm. At this stage, they are considering meeting more demands by the protesters, and it is possible the king will order the formation of a new government and elect a new parliament.

Jordan's economy has deteriorated in the last few years for several reasons, among which are the conduct of recent governments and the intake of over a million Syrian refugees. Despite the protests, opposition circles have not called to oust the government or king, who's is seen as a stabilizing factor and a keeper of the kingdom's institutions.

Meanwhile, the kingdom's stability is a supreme security concern from Israel's standpoint. At this point, officials in Jerusalem are closely following the demonstrations in Jordan as well as the regime's efforts to halt the protest.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:51 - GMT 06:51
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