Inter Political developments in Iran during Hassan Rouhani’s 2nd Presidency

9 m.   |  2019-01-17

Hassan Rouhani’s ruling period is one of the important stages in the modern history of Iran. After the long and tense negotiations with the “5+1 group”, Rouhani’s team finally succeeded in solving the nuclear problem, as a result of which the West had imposed economic sanctions since 2000, weakening both the country’s economy and Iran’s influence in the region.

On June 14 2013, during the presidential elections, Hassan Rouhani, who up until then had held different positions in parliament, was elected as the 7th president of the Islamic Republic of Iran receiving around 19 million votes. During the 2017 presidential elections Rouhani was again elected, this time receiving around 24 million votes.

Coming to power, Hassan Rouhani announced that he is ready to take steps connected with Iran’s nuclear project, which will help contribute to the strengthening of mutual trust between Iran and International community. After the long negotiations in 2015, the nuclear agreement was signed between Iran and the “5+1 group”, which became known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions”.

T he current situation would have been different during the 2017 presidential election race if the majority of the political powers supported the government during the first period of Rouhani’s presidency. The developments that initialized after the signing of the nuclear deal showed that even if Rouhani won an overwhelming victory during the elections, “Government of Hope and Prudence” would no longer enjoy the reputation it had after the 2015 nuclear agreement. This was due to opponents to the deal who had gained ground in publicising skepticism against the agreement.

At the time of the 2017 race for presidency, Rouhani’s opponents were mainly pointing out the ineffectiveness of a nuclear agreement. After Hassan Rouhani’s reelection, he wasn’t able to justify his agreement with the West especially when the expectations of society had been conditioned that an agreement would solve the social-economic problems of the country. After the agreement large-scale protests broke out. According to a report published by Iran’s Interior Ministry, protests were conditioned mainly by the following factors:

  • Decline in public trust towards government activity,

  • Improper public opinion management,

  • Increase in public expectations conditioned by political and pre-electoral competition

  • Anti-Iranian  activity of Iranian opponents

Although according to the official data Hassan Rouhani’s government succeeded in registering 6% in economic growth (7% economic decline was registered during the government of the former President M. Ahmadinejad), whereas the inflation rate was 10% compared with the previous governments’ 35%. However, in 2018 the purchasing power of Iran’s population had fallen by 80%, with price increases throughout the country.  The situation in the foreign market also has been out of control on occasions, even causing clashes and unrest with the population. If at the beginning of 2018 1 US dollar was worth 3000 toman, in the second term the Toman was valued at 19000 in September-October. Gradually, the Toman’s worth against the dollar took a further dive, by around 10-11 thousand toman.

Although Rouhani’s team tried to stabilize the domestic situation with various activities set up by the government (fight against corruption, CB leadership change, steps towards regulation of foreign exchange market), protests and strikes, started at the beginning of 2018 continuing throughout the year.  Taking advantage of the situation, political opponents of Rouhani tried to weaken the current President’s position, accusing him not only of a failed policy, but for the overall social-economic situation the government has brought upon the nation.

Within this context of upheaval, a group of Iranian parliamentarians tried to defame Hassan Rouhani this came about after the regular protests that were being held in July 2018. It is noteworthy to mention, that the Iranian press published the interview of Hossein Mousavian former diplomat and Rouhani’s political team member where in his interview he mentioned the need for the resignation of Hassan Rouhani and was justifying his opinion: “If the situation in the country is not changed within the next 3 years, then it will be right to maintain the state’s stability by holding snap presidential elections in Iran”. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejdad also joined the campaign against Rouhani, by strictly criticizing the government’s domestic and foreign policy and calling him to resign.

Analyzing recent events in Iran we can state that, Mahmoud Ahmadinejdad was trying to coordinate a significant part of society’s uncertainty to push towards a possible nationwide movement. Although Ahmadinejdad has some acting restrictions on him, as there is a criminal case filed against him and his associates, one in particular against his former Deputy Hamid Baghaei, and another against Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei former Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration who was arrested on these charges.

W ith regard to the distrust towards Rouhani, we can note, that even with the intervention of the Majlis discussions didn’t start yet. Whereas, on August 2, 2018 the Majlis approved of the deputies’ initiative to invite President Rouhani to the Parliament and to give explanations on the country’s social-economic situation.

Hassan Rouhani participated in the plenary session of the Majlis without opposing or answering the questions of the MPs. Although only one of the President’s answers satisfied the MPs, Rouhani succeeded in using the opportunity to present the government’s activities positively.  Only a few ministers were dismissed over the failed economic policy by the Majlis. From this, distrust eventuated against Mohammad Javad Zarif the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his dismissal was cancelled after the meeting of deputies.

The government of Hassan Rouhani faced serious challenges after the reimplementation of US sanctions on Iran, which naturally made the social-economic situation even more complicated. In order to overcome external challenges and to provide an economic cooperation with the major trading partners (China, India, Russia) after the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, Hassan Rouhani’s government initiated the process to join the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to fight against monetary laundering and to adopt the bill on the “Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (CFT)”. However, this caused serious disagreements between the executive branch and the majority of the MPs. The MPs, who opposed the bill found it a betrayal to join such convention, whereas those who supported the bill, including the Foreign Affairs Minister Zarif, were thinking that by joining to the CFT and FATF, a part of Iran’s financial and banking system obstacles would stabilize, and Tehran would be able to continue the economic cooperation with Europe within the nuclear agreement frameworks.  

Although the Parliament adopted the bill on CFT with 143 for, 120 against and 5 abstained votes in a rather tense atmosphere, the Constitution Protection Council of IRI soon cancelled it by sending it for rediscussion.  So far it has remained one of the issues on the agenda of inter-political life of IRI.     

It seemed that after America restoring sanctions on the Islamic political powers it would change their approach and would act in line with external challenges, although the mistrust of activities towards CFT and Foreign Affairs Minister Zarif proved that Rohani’s opposition forces use all situations possible to weaken the position of the current Government. Recent discussions in Majlis are more akin to a pre-election campaign, rather than actions towards solution of existing problems.

We should note that the political parties of Iran mainly act in the context of opposing conservative and reformist camps, although this decision is also relative, as the political thought process of the existing camps are mainly conditioned by internal and external political factors. The division of “conservative” and “reformist” political camps took place after the presidential elections of 1997, when reformist figure Mohammad Khatami was elected president. IRI political powers were sure that Khatami’s supporters were deviated from the main principles of Islamic Revolution.

To sum up, we should mention that the greatest achievement of Hassan Rouhani was the nuclear agreement, Rouhani’s government has always cited nuclear concession in response to public demands for job creation and social security convincing that existing problems will be gradually solved. Playing this card was no longer viable after the US withdrawal from nuclear agreement and the restoration of sanctions. Rouhani’s government not only failed to solve the issue of jobs, control inflation and stabilize the foreign exchange market, but also the country was gradually involved in external challenges in parallel with internal problems. Coming to power with the full support of reformists, the contradictions between the current president and the most radical reformist leaders are outlined in the second period of authority.

It is evident that under these circumstances that the ever-high rating of reformers within the society will gradually fall. These reformists are criticizing the President and his government for not keeping the pre-election promises and are gradually positioning themselves in the opposition parties, avoiding failure of responsibility of Rouhani’s government. The upcoming parliamentary elections competition will be followed by other logic in line with the external and internal issues of IRI.