By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah on Monday swore in a new government led by veteran diplomat Bisher al Khaswaneh that will seek to accelerate IMF-backed reforms as the economy faces its sharpest contraction in decades due to the coronavirus crisis.
British-educated Khasawneh, 51, was appointed on Wednesday to replace Omar al Razzaz, at a time of rising popular discontent about worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws to contain the pandemic.
The new premier, who comes from a family that has long held senior political posts, has spent most of his public career as a veteran diplomat and peace negotiator with Israel with a last stint as palace adviser.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Finance Minister Mohamad Al Ississ, who oversees the country's reform program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), kept their posts in a 32-member cabinet dominated by a mix of technocrats and conservative politicians who held sway in previous governments.
The new government faces an uphill task to revive growth in an economy that is expected to shrink by around 6% this year as it grapples with its worst economic crisis in many years, with unemployment and poverty aggravated by the pandemic.
Jordan this month saw a near-doubling of total infections since the first cases in early March, bringing warnings of a collapse in health services if it gets out of control.
Khasawneh will oversee parliamentary elections due on Nov 10. The contest will take place under an electoral law that marginalises the main Islamist opposition and independent political parties to keep a majority of pro-government deputies.
Outgoing premier Razzaz, appointed in 2018 to calm protests over IMF austerity moves, had faced criticism for his handling of the pandemic and use of emergency laws to silence dissent.
International rights groups lambasted the authorities for arresting hundreds of teacher activists after dissolving their opposition-led elected union last July.
The detention of dissidents and activists for criticising government policies raised alarm over a tighter authoritarian grip, rights groups and independent politicians say.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Edmund Blair, William Maclean)