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Jordan PM Hani al-Mulki resigns amid mass protests over tax bill

Hani al-Mulki submitted his resignation after widespread anger over price hikes and income tax reform bill.

Jordan's King Abdullah II has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki, the country's royal palace has said. 

Mulki submitted his resignation in a meeting with King Abdullah II on Monday. 

His resignation comes amid mass protests over price hikes and an income tax reform bill. 

According to an official source, the move is aimed at defusing the anger over the economic policies. 

Protests have been taking place across the capital Amman and other towns for the last four days. Protesters are calling for the government to scrap the bill. They were also demanding the removal of Mulki, whose government had proposed raising the income tax by at least five percent. 

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Mulki assumed office in 2016 and was responsible for improving the country's economy amid regional turmoil and a refugee crisis.

In the wake of Mulki's resignation, Jordanian King Abdullah asked Omar al-Razzaz to form a new government.

Al-Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, is described as a more "likeable" and "accepted" character among the Jordanian people. 

'Change of faces only'

Yet, some have questioned whether al-Razzaz will have what it takes to defuse the current tensions.

Musa al-Adwan, a retired Jordanian army general and former deputy chief of staff, said that while he highly respects al-Razzaz, "he is not fit the lead the government at this critical junction."

"Al-Razzaz is a technocrat that cannot and should not lead the country during this explosive situation," al-Adwan said.

"This is unreal," he added.

Ahmad al-Hajaya, a spokesman for Jordanian Teachers Syndicate, said that the current change in the government appears to be more or less "a change of faces only."

Al-Hajaya said that al-Razzaz is known among the teachers' union as an honest public servant.

"Unless al-Razzaz is given broad authority to combat corruption and restore public trust, his mandate will not succeed," he said, adding that his syndicate will continue protesting as long as the proposed law remains on the table.

Structural economic problems

Abdallah Ghoushe, a member of Jordan's 140,000-strong Engineers Association Board said that the sacking of former PM Mulki is a good step that might calm the street, but won't put an end to the protests. 

"Our issue with the government is its proposed tax law and other economic policies," he said.

"If this is not resolved as soon as possible, the conflict with the government will remain."

Jordan has long suffered from economic problems and remains heavily reliant on foreign aid. Earlier this year, Jordanians demanded the removal of bread subsidies and protested a sales tax rise.

According to Rami Khouri, a senior fellow and professor at the American University of Beirut, these problems are structural in nature.

"The government can't keep up with the economic growth rate to provide jobs or with the expenditures to provide essential services such as housing, security, and education," he said.

As part of a series of economic reforms to decrease Jordan's national debt of $37bn, which is equivalent to 95 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), the government introduced price increases on basic commodities that have angered many Jordanians.

The cost of fuel has increased five times in 2018, and electricity bills have shot up to 55 percent.

These measures stem from the $723m three-year credit line that the government secured from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.

Amman is the most expensive Arab city to live in, according to a recent report published by The Economist.


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