On October 12, 2020, a new Jordanian government was approved through Royal Decree, the cabinet being headed by Bisher Al Khasawneh, as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence.
The new premier, who comes from a family that has long held senior political posts, has spent most of his public career as a veteran diplomat and peace negotiator with Israel with the last stint as palace adviser.
Given the current situation, Jordan has followed the Constitutional timings in appointing a new Cabinet. As such, the mandate of this new government is tied to the serious challenges that the country faces today from COVID-19: from maintaining the healthcare system to agriculture and food security, to education and basic services. The Royal Designation Letter indicated all of these services, outlining the priorities that this government should focus on and highlighting that the formation of this Cabinet comes during exceptional circumstances, suggesting this government’s default focus must be on health, social and economic implications.
While former Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s government failed to impose stable measures to deal with COVID-19, apart from militarising lockdowns and complete closure of the economy with no plans to maintain healthcare and basic socioeconomics, there has been a lot of confusion with no clear stable vision.
Although it is not easy to meet all of these needs, it is critical to believe that this is a challenge that Jordan can develop a national narrative that recruits popular support to face all of the challenges. It is also important to promote the upcoming November parliamentary elections as the Royal Designation Letter insists on conducting the elections, highlighting the need to protect the health of citizens during the voting.
The increasing difficulties will limit the government’s capacity, requiring a greater focus on local problems. The new PM Bisher Al Khasawneh, who has been in regular contact with His Majesty over the last two years, has been involved in foreign policy issues, which means he is well-placed to engage in a more positive approach to reconnect the region and play a more effective role with Jordan’s allies, focusing on more realistic and productive policies. Combined with the Royal trust, the new PM should have wide scope to make policy changes, and for his new Cabinet to face the challenges and avoid the mistakes of his predecessor.
In the reply to the Letter of Designation, PM Khasawneh expressed appreciation of His Majesty’s trust and said the government will employ a transparent, science-based approach to deal with the health sector, especially countering COVID-19 The PM said the government will work to enhance healthcare services and capacities, while also balancing economic, social, and educational needs.
Also, Khasawneh expressed the government’s commitment to bolster its relationship with Parliament and to work in partnership with the private sector to stimulate economic growth and promote investment. He stressed the importance of enhancing economic resilience and combating poverty and unemployment, noting a commitment to economic reform to increase Jordan’s competitiveness, according to the statement.
Moreover, the PM said efforts will be directed towards combating tax and customs evasion, adding that the government will provide all the support needed by the Independent Election Commission.
Noting His Majesty’s attention to food security, the prime minister stressed the government’s commitment to bolstering the agricultural sector. The government will also work to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on the tourism sector, continue the restructuring of the energy sector, and upgrade the public transport system, Khasawneh said. He added that the government will pay special attention to youth, Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army and security agencies personnel, and retired servicemen.
Reaffirming commitment to the Palestinian cause and the Hashemite Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites, the PM said the government will continue to focus on joint Arab action.
Khasawneh added that the government will submit a detailed action program, with clear timeframes, within 100 days to the King on planned economic, social, financial, political, and reform-related measures.
In his statement, he also stressed that the government’s approach will be based on “full openness to media outlets, full honesty and true reality and objectivity with Jordanians”. In press remarks following the swearing-in ceremony before His Majesty King Abdullah, Khasawneh said that “we will not seek to achieve popularity while addressing the Jordanian citizen”, adding that the government will make all decisions, even if they are “painful”, to protect the homeland and improve the living conditions of citizens.
He also said that the ministers, during the session and following Royal directives, decided to choose a medical figure from the Ministry of Health to run the COVID-19 issue, adding that the ministry is also tasked with enhancing and developing the institutional capabilities of the entire health sector.