AMMAN — Figures from across Jordan’s political spectrum welcomed on Wednesday the appointment of Abdullah Ensour as prime minister as a “positive step”, cautioning that the veteran lawmaker’s ability to save the reform process will hinge upon his government’s action plan.
Leftists, Islamists and independents said although they were “encouraged” by the King’s selection of the long-time political maverick, they remained sceptical of Ensour’s ability to retain his independent reformist ways while at the Prime Ministry.
The Muslim Brotherhood — Jordan’s largest political group — says that although it has long respected Ensour’s pro-reform track record, its cordial relations with the incoming premier will not necessarily translate into improved ties with authorities.
“Although we respect Dr Ensour, our issue is with the political system, not with one person,” said Raad Adayleh, spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Islamist movement says its ability to enter a dialogue over its boycott of upcoming elections will depend on whether Ensour “has the final say” in the decision-making process.
“The question isn’t whether Ensour is a reformist, the question is whether he will have general jurisdiction of the state,” said Zaki Bani Rshied, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.
“If he cannot regain general jurisdiction from the forces that are actively working against reform, then it doesn’t matter.”
Hashed Secretary General Ablah Abu Olbeh, who served alongside Ensour as some of the few dissenting voices in the outgoing Parliament, agreed that her former colleague’s success as premier will hinge first and foremost on his handling of upcoming elections.
Noting that Ensour was a vocal critic of the current Elections Law while in Parliament, the leftist said that his ability to regain public trust in the state and avoid a nationwide poll boycott will depend on his ability to maintain his stance while in office.
“Dr Abdullah Ensour has made his opposition to the law very clear; he knows that this is a backward piece of legislation,” said Abu Olbeh, who also serves as secretary general of the National Coalition of Opposition Parties.
“The success of these elections and the success of the entire reform process will depend on whether he is a man of his word,” she said, urging the new premier to revisit the controversial law.
“If we are to save the reform process we have to hold democratic elections under a democratic law, and we hope he is the man to do it,” she told The Jordan Times over phone.
Ensour’s appointment was met with cautious enthusiasm from the leftist camp, which expressed hope that the former minister can carry his crusade against corruption from the Lower House to the Fourth Circle.
“Abdullah Ensour has been critical of the government’s failure to bring corruption cases to court, and now it is his chance to put words into action,” said Akram Homsi of the Baathist Popular Party.
“In order to restore public trust in the government, he will have to bring the corrupt to trial and soon.”
Meanwhile, Ensour’s appointment garnered mute praise from independent activists from so-called popular movements, who say their trust in the state has been frayed after successive “failures” of previous governments to live up to their reform pledges.
“We want a change in policies, not just a change in names,” said Muath Btoush of the Karak Popular Movement.
Acknowledging that Ensour has “stood by” pro-reform activists several times throughout his tenure in Parliament, activists say they personally hold the incoming premier in high regard.
“We respected Abdullah Ensour the parliamentarian; the question is, will we respect Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour?”
While encouraged by segments of the King’s Letter of Designation underlying the importance of “protecting the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”, activists say they have “low expectations” of Ensour’s ability to reverse a recent crackdown that has seen the arrest of 18 protesters in less than a month.
“We have seen governments change and security policies stay the same,” Btoush said.
“We hope that this time it will be different, but we don’t expect it will be.”