Jordan Dissolves Parliament, Reshuffles Cabinet

Jordan Dissolves Parliament, Reshuffles Cabinet
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         [King Abdallah II, shaking hands with premeir
          Ali Abu Raghib. Read photo caption below.]


Jordan Dissolves Parliament, Reshuffles Cabinet

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah dissolved parliament on Saturday but did not set a date for a general election which should be due in November, officials said -- raising the possibility that it could be delayed.
Lawmakers and politicians have said the monarch will adopt a path stipulated in the country's constitution enabling him to delay the next four-year parliamentary term by at least one year, or by two years at most.
In public, officials say a delay would give more time to draft a more representative electoral law to eliminate loopholes that prompted an Islamist boycott of the last election in 1997.
But privately, top decision makers worry that the current Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule has further radicalized Jordan's own majority-Palestinian population and hit investor sentiment at a time when frustration with the economy is already high. A delay, they believe, may let sentiment cool.
In a separate decree, King Abdullah announced a broad reshuffle of the cabinet that gave Prime Minister Abu al-Ragheb more scope to advance market reform, officials said.
POLITICIANS WARN KING
Deputies said the most likely scenario now was that an article in the constitution would be invoked that allows the monarch to recall the dissolved parliament after four months pass without an election.
He has been lobbied over the last few months by senior politicians who have warned him that regional violence and economic stagnation may usher in radical deputies bent on derailing unpopular IMF-guided economic reforms, including fiscal restraint and extensive privatization's.
They also say that Islamists, the most organized political grouping with the greatest number of supporters, will benefit from mounting popular frustration with successive governments for failing to deliver on promises of economic prosperity.
Government officials say electoral reform will benefit the Palestinian population, but that it will be a rush to draw up in time to hold the election as scheduled, in November.
The current voting system favors staunchly tribal East Bank constituencies over the largely Palestinian-populated cities, which are Islamic strongholds and highly politicized.
Its use in the last election in 1997 prompted an Islamist boycott. However, the outgoing parliament dodged any serious debate of the issue, and it is not clear how substantial any reform may be, or whether the current law might even be used again.
MEASURE OF STABILITY
Meanwhile Abu al-Ragheb ensured a measure of stability by keeping the foreign, finance and interior portfolios unchanged in his 29-member cabinet while bringing in 11 new ministers.
Officials said the reshuffle was aimed at increasing cohesion in a cabinet named last year with a mandate to speed up IMF-backed reforms which, though unpopular, are seen by the government sees as crucial to jump-starting an ailing economy.
Foreign Minister Abdulilah al-Khatib has been handling a delicate balancing act with neighbors over relations with Israel, while veteran finance minister Michel Marto has been credited with keeping the structural reforms required by the International Monetary Fund on track.
The new cabinet took the oath of office on Saturday evening. The U.S.-educated Abu al-Ragheb, a businessman and former minister of trade and industry in the 1990s who has also headed the finance committee of the lower house of parliament, faces a daunting task in ending three years of economic slowdown.
The stagnation has been worsened by the Palestinian uprising, which has dented investor sentiment and hurt expectations of inflows of foreign investment.
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PHOTO CAPTION

Jordan's King Abdullah II, right, shakes hands with his Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb, at the Royal Palace in Amman Saturday, June 16, 2001, during the ceremony when the new appointed minsters are sworn in. A cabinet reshuffle occured Saturday in which 11 ministers where changed. In the background are three new ministers from right: Mohammed Batayneh new energy minister, Faleh Naser new health minister, Nader Thahabi new transport minister. (AP Photo/Yousef Allan)
- Jun 16 4:37 PM ET
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