Jordan’s new PM faces dilemma on tax reforms

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Only days into his appointment by King Abdullah II, Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz is facing an opposition from military veterans, while analysts consider his appointment as pragmatic move .

The country’s powerful Military Veterans Association issued a statement earlier in the week signed by several retired senior military leaders and others decrying Razzaz appointment.

The statement called Razzaz’s appointment “shocking” and a “provocation”.

Though he is an honorable man and a technocrat, however, he is unfit to lead the government at this critical junction.

General Musa al-Adwan, former commander of Jordan’s Special Forces

Retired General Musa al-Adwan. a former commander of Jordan’s Special Forces. told al Jazeera that Razzaz is not the right man at this time. 

Retired army General Musa Al Adwan [Al Jazeera]

“He is an honorable man and a technocrat. However, he is unfit to lead the government at this critical junction.” said Adwan who is one of the signatories of the military veterans’ statement.

“He was part of the old failed government, and if he is not empowered to lead the government with a great measure of independence, he will fail.” He said.

Popular Prime Minister

Fahad Khitan, a prominent Jordanian political analyst, downplayed the veterans’ statement and motivations.

“There is a difference between the current protest movement against the proposed tax law and politically motivated ones such as those led by the Hirak, an opposition formation dominated mainly by former government and military officers hailing from the country’s powerful tribes,” Khitan said.

“The current protest movement is led by the middle class and business community, who felt the proposed tax law will have dire consequences on them.

“Razzaz will be a popular prime minister because of his previous job as an education minister which endeared him to the public. This is the first time I see enthusiasm for a prime minister in the country,” he added.

Razzaz has previously pledged to have dialogue over the controversial tax law, but on Thursday he was reported to have said that he would drop the proposed bill, conceding to a key demand of protesters. 

He tweeted on Wednesday “I pledge to have dialogue with all groups and to work together with them to reach just taxation system that will be fair to all.”

Economist Mazen Irsheid told Al Jazeera that the Jordanian government “has no choice but to go ahead with its planned economic reforms.”

“I do not think Razzaz will cancel the law because Jordan has committed itself to tax reform with the International Monterey Fund [IMF].

“The new government will technically withdraw the law’s current version and start a dialogue with different groups including the professional and trade associations. It will then submit a watered-down version of it to the parliament within several weeks,” he told Al Jazeera.

Irsheid thinks the appointment of Razzaz was smart move by the king.

“It is possible that the king have selected Razzaz who worked for IMF before to assure the international agency that Jordan is still committed to its planned economic reforms.” he said.

The Key demands

The “Hirak” also called on the king to initiate structural economic and political reform.

The main demands of “Hirak” and the military veterans group is a change of course in the country’s economic policies, combat corruption, restore the constitutional monarchy and the direct election of the prime minister.

Razzaz who was an education minister in the previous government of former prime minister Hani al-Mulki, is facing a daunting task of trying to strike a balance between the need to pass the controversial tax law and satisfy the demands of the street and opposition groups.

King Abdullah sacked al-Mulki after mass protesters demanded his resignation and the withdrawal of tax law that would have increased taxes across the board and caused further hardship on the population.

In Jordan’s political traditions, the prime minister often functions as a “fall guy” or “buffer” between the king and the population when things reach a boiling point.

Historically, Prime ministers were appointed for as little as one month or as long as 3 years mainly to enact certain laws, or resolve domestic or regional crisis after which they were dismissed.

The King has repeatedly said in public that he wants to see strong political parties in the country so they can stand for elections and form an elected government.

Fighting corruption

Hussam Abdallat one of the key leaders of the “Hirak” and former senior government official told Al Jazeera that “Razzaz’ appointment is just a change in decorum, not in substance.”

“What we need is a fundamental political and economic change that will restore the constitutional monarchy system and get rid of corrupt officials who still dominate the government ranks today.” He said

While asserting that Razzaz is ‘clean’, the opposition groups still consider him as part of the neo-liberal advisors responsible for the country’s economic collapse.

If the king backs the new prime minister and urge him to wage a war on corruption, the country will make it through this difficult period.

General Mahmoud Hammad, former Chief of Staff of Jordan Land Forces

Retired General Mahmoud Hammad the former Chief of staff of Jordan’s land forces told Al Jazeera that the biggest problem facing the new prime minister and Jordan in general is “corruption.”

He said Jordan would be on the track of recovery if there were a government that is serious in its efforts to fight corruption.

Hammad told Al Jazeera that he on one occasion advised the king personally on the urgent need to get rid of corrupt advisors who are eroding the people’s trust in the regime.

“The King must act decisively and back the new prime minister up against those who would try to weaken him.”

“If the king backs the new prime minister and urge him to wage a war on corruption, the country will make it through this difficult period.” He added.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

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