Jordan PM reshuffles cabinet to soothe anger over poor economy

Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki reshuffled his cabinet on Sunday and appointed the king’s chief of staff as his special deputy for economic affairs in an apparent bid to soothe widespread anger over rising hardship and flagging growth.

Mulki’s reshuffle, his sixth since coming to power in May 2016, comes three days after hundreds of protesters in the city of Salt, 30 km west of the capital Amman, demanded his resignation and called for the king to force the government to roll back price increases and end high-level corruption.

The monarch later issued a royal decree approving the appointment of Major General Fadel al Hamoud as new police chief in a shakeup that two officials tied to the events in Salt city and recent law and order lapses.

Earlier this month Mulki avoided a vote of no-confidence in parliament after deputies sought to bring down the government over the price hikes that raised taxes on most consumer and food items and some fuel items. This was followed by a doubling of the prices of subsidized bread.

Jafar Hassan, chief of staff of the office of Jordan’s King Abdullah, takes up the post of deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs, a role that had been left vacant in Mulki’s previous cabinet.

Hassan, a former Harvard educated planning minister, will be leading a ministerial team overseeing a tough three-year program agreed with the International Monetary Fund of long delayed structural reforms to cut public debt to 77 percent of GDP by 2021 from 94 percent now.

Earlier this year, Mulki imposed steep IMF-mandated tax hikes to cut rising public debt that have hit the incomes of ordinary Jordanians, causing his popularity to plummet.

Finance Minister Omar Malhas kept his job in the reshuffle.

Ayman Safadi, a long-time adviser to the royal family, who took up the post for the first time early last year and has been leading the kingdom’s talks with Washington over its Middle East policy, remains as foreign minister.

Politicians and economists say the tough fiscal consolidation plan and the price hikes are worsening the plight of poorer Jordanians.