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Jordan's parliament chooses prime minister for first time

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan's parliament voted Saturday for the monarchy's caretaker prime minister to form a new Cabinet, the first time in the country's history that the legislature rather than the king has decided who will be head of government.

Abdullah Ensour, a former liberal lawmaker known for fiery criticisms of the government when he was in parliament, was selected as part of a reform program aimed at defusing political unrest to stave off an Arab Spring-style uprising.

But he is also committed enough to King Abdullah II's plan for cautious reforms to be the king's choice for prime minister in October, when the sitting government was dissolved prior to parliamentary elections. Those elections were boycotted by the country's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, producing a legislature that has a heavy contingent of conservative tribal lawmakers traditionally loyal to the king but also a surprisingly large opposition bloc of about 50 Islamist, leftists and others.

Mohammed al-Haj, head of the Islamist Centrist Party which won the largest bloc of 16 seats in elections on Jan. 23, said at least 80 out of 150 lawmakers voted for Ensour. "We gave him the chance to remain in office and pick his Cabinet from inside or outside parliament," said al-Haj.

Abdullah formally confirmed Ensour's appointment. Abdullah has in the past selected prime ministers, but he relinquished that right as part of the reform package announced last year.

A government official said Ensour will name his Cabinet this week, ahead of a regional tour by U.S. President Barack Obama that includes a stopover in Jordan.

In the letter that appointed Ensour, King Abdullah said the prime minister would remain in office for the next four years. Jordanians in street protests since the start of the Arab Spring have been critical of the king for changing his prime ministers frequently — at least four times in the past two years.

The king said the Cabinet should pursue further liberalization and decentralization. He also said it should target the government bureaucracy, known for nepotism, corruption and inefficiency.

Jordan's parliament chooses prime minister for first time 03/09/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 9, 2013 8:42pm]
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