Jordan's king swears in govt led by Mulki for second term

September 28, 2016 6:38 AM EDT

King Abdullah II of Jordan addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah swore in a new government headed by Hani Mulki as prime minister for a second term on Wednesday, with a little-changed cabinet and a mandate to accelerate economic reforms.

Mulki, 64, who has held a string of senior diplomatic and ministerial posts, was first appointed in May to oversee parliamentary elections held last week.

The business-friendly politician was reappointed on Sunday, tasked with reviving a sluggish economy and business sentiment hit by regional turmoil by overseeing a new International Monetary Fund-guided program.

In Jordan's constitutional monarchy most powers rest with the king, who appoints governments, approves legislation and can dissolve parliament.

The key finance, foreign and finance ministerial posts will remain unchanged and the 29-member cabinet will, as before, have a mix of technocrats, conservative politicians and tribal loyalists.

Mulki will face a more assertive parliament, after the Muslim Brotherhood gained a foothold in the election.

A royal decree postponed the new parliament's first session until Nov. 7, almost a month later than expected, in a move politicians said was intended to give the new government more time to prepare for vote-of-confidence debates.

The government usually wins such votes by a large majority in parliaments packed with pro-government deputies. But this time there could be vocal dissent from independents and the Islamist movement, which has ended its decade-long boycott of mainstream politics and returns as the mainstay of a broad civic alliance.

The lack of change in the cabinet may weaken its chances of confronting a more vocal parliament, say critics.

"It's wrong to say it's even a new government, just a minor reshuffle lacking the personalities with the long experience that would be able to deal with parliament," said Mamdouh al-Abbadi, a veteran lawmaker.

The alliance is not large enough to block legislation or cabinet appointments, but tough criticism of the government in the assembly could undermine public support for its policies.

With parliament passive in recent years, successive governments have been able to enact draconian temporary laws restricting public freedoms.

Deputies are expected to confront austerity steps and tax hikes introduced under a three-year IMF deal signed in August aimed at lowering public debt and accelerating growth.

The program calls for further subsidy cuts and tax hikes.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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