Jordan’s prime minister steps down after mass protests
Jordan’s government has stepped down after five days of nationwide protests against new austerity measures.
Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki, who took office last year, met with King Abdullah II before resigning, the Royal Hashemite Court announced Monday. Education minister Omar al-Razzaz has been named interim prime minister, according to government-run newspaper Al Rai.
Demonstrators, spurred by tax hikes and subsidy cuts, had called on the prime minister to step down.
Since a strike began on Wednesday, thousands have poured onto the streets of the capital Amman and several other cities. A sea of protesters has been gathering outside al-Mulki’s office at night, after the breaking of the Ramadan fast at dusk.
Images of burning tires and blocked roads teeming with demonstrators could be seen in videos posted to social media.
“Taxes are unbearable,” said Ashraf Jarar, an insurance consultant out among the protestors. “We can’t live anymore. Even though a Prime Minister is out and another one is in, we still have demands. The situation is unbelievable.”
“The Prime Minister who resigned is just a tool,” Jarar continued. “He did things and the laws are still here. It has to be changed, it is not about a person. … All the laws need to be changed and the system has to be changed. We don’t have any money. We are broke, literally.”
King Abdullah issued a message of support to the demonstrators on Monday.
“What I have seen over the past few days makes me happy,” he told the state-run Petra News Agency. “I am honored to be Jordanian.”
Last month, the Jordanian government introduced an income tax bill aimed at widening the tax base, increasing tax brackets and penalizing tax evaders.
The tax reform bill, which is driven by the International Monetary Fund, aims to reduce public debt to from 96% of gross domestic product to 77% by 2021.
Members of parliament have vowed to reject it, refusing to vote on the bill. Trade unions rejected the bill and called for the general strike.
On Saturday, King Abdullah urged his government “to lead a comprehensive, rational, national dialogue to reach a consensus on the draft income tax law that does not fatigue the public, combats evasion and improves efficiency of tax collection,” according to a statement issued by the Royal Hashemite Court.
But Jordanians, buckling under rising unemployment and inflation rates, say they won’t bear the brunt of the kingdom’s economic struggles.
“It is not a viable option anymore that the pockets of the poor people, of the middle class in Jordan, are being targeted every time the government needs money, regardless the reason. The government has to look at other options,” Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson.
“We are not asking for anything special,” a protester who called herself Dina told CNN. “Jordanian people just want to live decently. They just want a system that is fair for everyone.”