In recent weeks, President Hassan Rouhani has come under intense fire as Iran’s new hardline Parliament takes steps to undermine him. Rouhani is facing strong criticism for failing to salvage Iran’s economy which is suffering from US-led sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
By resisting calls for his dismissal and holding the hardliners accountable for undermining his presidency, Rouhani has tried but failed to split the hardliners. He has only succeeded in mustering enough support in the hardline camp to remain in office until next year’s presidential race.
This makes Rouhani’s position extremely precarious and paves the way for the hardliners to assume more power in Iran when presidential elections take place in June 2021. A host of potential candidates will compete for the presidential seat, and the Iranian media is airing the profiles of potential hardline candidates.
Meanwhile, the hardliners passed a motion in June to summon President Rouhani to question him in Parliament. In July, the Iranian Parliament collected signatures to call for Rouhani’s impeachment. It was reported that the motions were halted when the supreme leader intervened to end the factional conflict because he believed it damaged Iran’s reputation abroad and undermined the country’s internal stability.
Still, concerns over Iran’s growing national debt led the new Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf to call on Ayatollah Khamenei to halt Rouhani’s plans to sell government-subsidized oil bonds in domestic stock markets to generate much-needed revenues. Rouhani pushed for the plan over the summer at the Supreme Economic Coordination Council, a body recently set up to deal with Iran’s economic crisis.
Other members of the council including Qalibaf and the hardline Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi fault Rouhani for concluding the nuclear deal and curbing Iran’s nuclear program. In 2018, the United States withdrew from the deal and re-imposed additional sanctions on Iran. In August of this year, Iran’s legislators proposed a provocative bill to abandon the nuclear deal and end Iran’s commitment to the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In October, the hardline challenge to Rouhani escalated when the Parliament speaker criticized Rouhani for failing to stabilize Iran’s currency which has plummeted as a result of US sanctions. In October, the Iranian rial dropped from the official rate of 42,000 rials against the US dollar to over 300,000 rials against the US dollar.
Shortly afterwards, Mojtaba Zolnouri, a hardline lawmaker who chairs the Parliament’s powerful National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, called on the supreme leader to punish Rouhani by issuing an order to hang the president a thousand times over for his mismanagement of the country. Following Rouhani’s complaints , the supreme leader intervened to forbid attacks on him. The supreme leader emphasized that Rouhani had to complete his term in office.
Zolnouri continued to call for the president’s impeachment, but he backed off from his earlier calls to hang Rouhani. The call to impeach Rouhani was silenced when the hardline lawmakers agreed that it was pointless as he was leaving office soon.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Parliament wants to take charge to deliver basic goods and expand oversight of the president’s economic policies. Iran’s legislators have publicized a list of government policies/actions which they say have led to the country’s economic downfall. They are also refusing to review and approve some 67 draft bills issued by Rouhani’s government to fix the economy. In another move, Parliament overwhelmingly ruled that the Iranian government must pay monthly subsidies to cover the costs of basic goods.
The growing rifts in Iran over the handling of the country’s economy point to more significant problems. Rouhani is faulted for wanting to hold fresh talks with the United States. Iran’s hardliners dismiss such talks as useless and disgraceful, considering that the US Department of the Treasury has sanctioned not only the government, but also Rouhani’s inner circle including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh.
Hardliners have increased their attacks on Rouhani in recent days, urging him to transfer managerial positions from his incapable government to more capable bureaucrats. They charge the government with misleading the Iranian people, and they want a new government to take charge of the country soon.
The hardliners, by labeling Rouhani’s supporters as a “misleading trend,” are indicating that Rouhani and the US sanctions are both weakening the Iranian revolution. This indicates that many in the hardline camp strongly feel that Rouhani, knowingly or not, serves US interests by weakening Iran. The hardliners in Iran are likely to press to reverse Rouhani’s policies once he leaves office, including his efforts to build closer ties with the West by signing the 2015 nuclear deal.