By Wael Al Jaraisheh and Banan Malkawi
AMMONNEWS - Following weeks of deliberations with the Lower House of Parliament and political parties, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour on Saturday finalized the formation of his new cabinet, which was sworn in before King Abdullah II Saturday evening.
Ensour's second-term cabinet became Jordan's 77th government, and 13th government formation since King Abdullah II ascended to the Throne in 1999.
The "slim" new government, including only 19 members, is the most slender of successive Jordanian governments since 1967, after Ensour decreased his cabinet from 21 to 19, including himself, less than a year after his first term (sworn-in October 11, 2012) witnessed a stark drop from 30 ministers under the term of former PM Fayez Tarawneh.
The 18 ministers include (9) first-time ministers, (4) ministers from the first Ensour cabinet, and (5) former ministers who served under ex-PMs.
Yet the long weeks of deliberations with members of the Lower House of Parliament yielded no parliamentary ministers in the new cabinet, despite several parliamentary blocs stressing that their confidence vote for the new government is wagered by including incumbent MPs in the new government, to crown the new "Parliamentary Government" called for by King Abdullah II upon designating Ensour for a second term.
With women's advocacy organization blasting Ensour for not including any women in his first cabinet, the Prime Minister chose one woman in his new government formation: Mrs. Reem Abu Hassan, a women's rights activist who departs from her position as Secretary General of the National Council for Family Affairs and delegated with the portfolio of Social Development. Abu Hassan is married to Thamer Obeidat, son of former Prime Minister and current outspoken reform advocate Ahmad Obeidat.
In addition to Abu Hassan, Ensour appointed first-time serving ministers including Major General Hussein Hazza Majali, leaving his post as Chief of the Public Security Department (PSD) and appointed Minister of Interior. His Ministry is merged with portfolios of Rural and Municipality Affairs.
Mohammad Momani, a renowned media figure and academic, leaves his post as Director of the Jordan Media Institute to be appointed to a merged portfolio of Media Affairs and Communications, Political Development, and Parliamentary Affairs. Momani previously served as an advisor to a number of former Ministers.
Barakat Owjan, appointed as Minister of Culture, is a public-sector physician before going into private practice, and is a social activist in the southern governorate of Ma'an. He ran in the recent Parliamentary elections under a National List but did not win.
Malik Kabariti, chosen as Minister of Energy, headed the Board of the National Electric Company.
The new cabinet maintained four ministers from Ensour's first term, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh, Minister of Industry and Trade, Provisions, and Minister of Communications Technology. Hatem Halawani, Minister of Public Sector Development Ekhlaif Khawaldeh, and Minister of Labor and Transportation Nidal Qatamin.
Nasser Judeh is the lone remainder of ministers dubbed "trans-governmental," a group of ministers that survived in their posts despite successive government reshuffles and re-formations in the past four years, including Jaafar Hassan and Alaa' Batayneh. Judeh's new portfolio includes a new addition, "Jordanian Expatriate Affairs," which Jordanians abroad have been demanding for some time. It remains unclear the nature of services rendered to Jordanians living abroad, duties now under the banner of the Foreign Ministry.
Five members of the new cabinet served previously under former governments, including Minister of Awqaf Mohammad Nuh Qudah (who served as Minister of Youth), Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Amin Mahmoud, Minister of Finance Umayya Touqan, Minister of Water and Agriculture Hazem al Nasser, and Minister of Education Mohammad Wahsh.
Despite merging the Ministries of Education and Higher Education during Ensour's first term, the two ministries were separated again into two distinct ministries under Mohammad Wahsh for Education, and Amin Mahmoud for Higher Education and Scientific Research.
The popular demand for a return of a Ministry of Provisions (Tamween) finally paid off, with Ensour appointing Hatem Halawani to head a joint Ministerial position that includes Industry and Trade, Information Communications Technology, in addition to Provisions.
The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities was merged with the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, formerly held by "trans-governmental" Jaafar Hassan, and will now be headed by economist and researcher Ibrahim Saif.
The Ministry of Environment was merged with the Ministry of Health, headed by Dr. Mjalli Mleihan.
The demographic considerations often taken seriously in Jordanian government formations to include representation of "all" segments of Jordanian society witnessed a break from this tradition in the new cabinet formation. The Badia districts are no longer represented by a Minister, following the exit of Minister of Tourism Nayef Al Fayez (from the Central Badia). Two from the "Ta'amrah" Palestinian Bethlehem tribe were appointed, Amin Mahmoud and Mohammad Al Wahsh. Ajloun governorate is represented by two Ajloun locals, while Salt, north of Amman, maintained only one local: PM Abdullah Ensour.
* Photo: New Jordanian cabinet ministers following the swearing-in ceremony before King Abdullah II on Saturday, March 30, 2013. Photo by Mohammad Abo Hmaed/Ammon News