Middle East

Jordan’s prime minister resigns after days of mass protests

Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Mulki resigned on Monday after five days of mass protests in the kingdom over austerity measures.

Omar Razzaz, a member of the Jordanian cabinet, was appointed to form a new government. Razzaz is a former World Bank economist and was education minister in the outgoing government.

Mulki, who was considered 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. Price hikes and tax increases have caused his popularity to plummet.

Earlier this year, he reshuffled his cabinet for the sixth time since coming to power in a bid to tackle widespread frustration over increasing hardship and stagnant growth.

Demonstrations have rocked the Jordanian capital and several other cities since Wednesday against a draft income tax law and price hikes based on recommendations by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The protests, the biggest in Jordan in years, widened on Saturday after Mulki refused to scrap a bill increasing personal and corporate taxes, saying it was up to parliament to decide.

Demonstrators who converged near the Cabinet office said they would disband only if the government rescinded the tax bill it sent to parliament last month.

Jordan's King Abdullah II summoned Mulki on Monday hours after around 5,000 people rallied outside his office in Amman, on the fifth consecutive day of protests in the Jordanian capital and other cities.

تكليف الدكتور عمر الرزاز بتشكيل حكومة جديدة pic.twitter.com/1FGkC5syy9

— خبرني Khaberni (@khaberni) June 4, 2018

Translation: Dr Omar Razzaz appointed to form the new government

The head of Jordan's trade unions said on Monday that protest actions will continue regardless of any changes in the government.

"We need to change the tactic of judgement not only persons," said Ali Aloboos, head of the Jordanian Engineers Association.

Sixty people have been detained for breaking the law in the protests and 42 security force members have been injured, police chief Major General Fadel al-Hamoud said at a news conference on Monday.

"Rest assured, Jordan is a safe and secure country, and things are under control," said Major General Hussein Hawatmeh, head of the Gendarmerie security department, appearing along with Hamoud.

Austerity Jordan

Jordan, a mostly desert kingdom with few resources, has seen prices of several basic goods and services such as bread, fuel and electricity steadily rise over the past year as it attempts to fulfil austerity measures agreed with the IMF.

In an unprecedented move, Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah visited the protest site outside the prime minister's office at dawn on Monday and spoke to security forces who had deployed en masse to keep protesters at bay.

"They must be able to express themselves and voice their opinions and our duty is to protect them," the crown prince told security forces in reference to the protesters.

"We and they support the king. We want to protect this country," he added.

Last month, the government proposed a new income tax law, yet to be approved by parliament, aimed at raising taxes on employees by at least five percent and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.

The measures are the latest in a series of economic reforms since Amman secured a $723m three-year credit line from the IMF in 2016.

Jordanian analysts told Middle East Eye that the kingdom has struggled with the loss of investment in recent years from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

It is understood that Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed called King Abdullah II on Sunday night to discuss the ongoing situation.

The protest campaign started on Wednesday when hundreds responded to a call by Jordan's trade unions by flooding the streets outside the headquarters of the union federation.

Since then, nighttime protests have gripped Amman and other major cities in the cash-strapped country of 9.5 million.

According to official estimates, 18.5 percent of Jordan's population are unemployed, while 20 percent are on the brink of poverty.

The Economist Intelligence Unit earlier this year ranked Jordan's capital as one of the most expensive in the Arab world.

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