Middle East

Jordan's King Abdullah swears in caretaker government

Abdullah Ensour speaks to reporters in Amman (11 October 2012)
Image caption Abdullah Ensour urged opposition parties to participate in the upcoming polls

Jordan's King Abdullah has sworn in a caretaker government with a new prime minister ahead of parliamentary polls.

The new cabinet, headed by independent politician Abdullah Ensour, took office on Thursday, a week after the House of Representatives was dissolved.

The ministers of finance, foreign affairs and planning kept their posts.

The Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Islamic Action Front, has threatened to boycott the elections, which must be held within four months.

The IAF, Jordan's largest opposition party, has demanded broader political representation and a more democratic parliament.

Last Friday, as many as 15,000 people took to the streets of the capital, Amman, demanding constitutional reform. It was the biggest opposition protest seen in the kingdom since the start of the Arab Spring.

'Nothing new'

The new prime minister is a 73-year-old independent MP who has been a vocal supporter of reforms and anti-corruption measures.

He is also said to have cordial ties with the opposition, and on Thursday he held talks with IAF and trade union leaders.

Mr Ensour urged the IAF to participate in the election, saying: "We don't want to exclude the Islamist movement and we are extending our hands to them. They are an important element of democratic life in Jordan."

However, an opposition statement said "nothing new" had emerged.

Mr Ensour also said his new cabinet realised "the importance of its transitional role to pave the way for parliamentary governments and help Jordanians become partners in decision making".

On Wednesday, the king told Mr Ensour that the "primary responsibility of this government in this transitional phase is to pave the way for a qualitative leap in Jordan's political history and democratisation".

"Between now and election day, your government is expected to continue dialogue with all segments of society, political parties and political forces, to encourage them to effectively take part in the elections as candidates and voters," he added.

Last week's protest in Amman and the dissolution of parliament come amid opposition anger at an electoral law amendment passed in July.

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Media captionThe BBC's Wyre Davies spoke to opposition supporters in Amman

The electoral law increased the number of seats in the House of Representatives from 120 to 150, and gave the electorate two votes - one for a district representative and one for national level lists that include political parties - replacing the single non-transferable vote.

Opposition parties demanded that 50% of seats be allocated to party lists, but the new electoral law gave them just 27 seats, or 18%.

They also complained that the new law would strengthen supporters of the king by allocating three more seats for women from Bedouin districts.

This, they argued, would continue to marginalise Jordanians of Palestinian origin - who make up 60% of the population but have little political power - in favour of those descended from Jordan's original Bedouin inhabitants - whose tribes dominate the government and security forces and are the bedrock of the Hashemite monarchy.

Correction 25 January 2013: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that members of the Jordanian security forces were allowed to vote for the first time.

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