New Government, same challenges

Amid COVID-19, 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 Jordan 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. This new government has an obligation to balance healthcare considerations with enabling as much of the economy to continue to operate and safeguarding citizens’ livelihoods. As cases of COVID increase, there is no room for trials and tests. Poverty and economic pressures are increasing, are there are no workable plans to restart aviation and transportation. There is a small window for the new government to develop policies and plans to deliver outcomes and build confidence.

While the challenges that Jordan is facing were not created by COVID-19, the exceptional circumstances have quickly caused them to bubble to the surface. Jordan needs dynamic and innovative strategies to develop policies that can contain the damage on a social and economic level. This requires a clear road-map for the government with short, medium and long-term strategies.

The short term requires fast actions to push the cycle of economy. The medium-term must be based on an alliance between local business and the government in projects that Jordan really needs, this requires a different approach from the one used in recent months that have antagonised the business sector and created a negative atmosphere. The long-term must focuses on changing the dependency of the state on loans and donations from foreign countries. The focus needs to be on agriculture, local industries, education and creating the best conditions for the Jordanian geography to connect the region in mega projects from transportation to energy.

Although it is not easy to meet all of these needs, especially given that governments are still framed in the same old way, it is critical to believe that this is a challenge that Jordan can face and win. It is also important to develop a national narrative that recruits popular support to face all of the challenges. It is also important to promote the upcoming 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 determination to conduct elections require a national narrative that seizes the opportunity and creates a supportive and positive culture which will support people to work together to face the current and coming difficulties.

The increasing difficulties will limit the government’s capacity, requiring a greater focus on these local problems. The new Prime Minister Bisher 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 reengage the region and play a more effective role with Jordan’s allies, focusing on more realistic and productive polices. Combined with such Royal trust, the new prime minister should have wide scope to make policy changes, and for his new Cabinet to face the challenges and avoid the mistakes of his predecessor.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh