The Powerless Government, Weak President!

BySolmaz Ikdar

After the president accepted the resignations of the Minister of Road and Transportation and, the Minister of Industry, Mining and Trade, the fourth and the fifth seats in the cabinet will be empty.
The 12th government – which does not seem to have a leader for a while – has previously lost the Ministers of Economy and Labor who could not get the vote of confidence from the parliament.
Following the currency crisis, Minister of Economy Karbasian was impeached by the lawmakers in August this year. And Rahmatullah Akrami was appointed as caretaker of this Ministry.
Before that, the Minister of Labor, Cooperative and Social Welfare too was impeached by the Parliament, and Anoushiravan Mohseni Bandpay replaced Ali Rabiee as caretaker of this Ministry.
Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the Spokesperson of the government – who as deputy to the president, was at the same time the head of the Budget and Planning Organization – resigned from his position as spokesperson to retain his position as the head of the Budget and Planning Organization.
As a result, at the time of crisis in the country’s economy, none of the positions related to this field has a Minister. Also, the government has been deprived of its most basic tool to communicate with people.

President, incapable of running the government
Hassan Rouhani himself has been repeatedly accused by critics of being lazy, not hard-working, and incapable of handling the government’s current affairs. But that is not all.
According to the constitution of Iran, particularly after its revisions in 1989, even though the president is the second person in the country’s structure of power and the head of the executive branch, his powers are even more limited than his cabinet members.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, during his presidency, entrusted the four Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior Affairs, Intelligence and Defense to the Supreme Leader – as he said, “for more cooperation with other non-elective institutions” – so that “his economic government” could move forward more swiftly.
This illegal tradition continued after Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency came to an end but was not limited to these four ministries.
The Supreme Leader gradually imposed his views in appointing the Ministers of Cultural and Social Affairs. This went to the extent that Hassan Rouhani, at the time of introducing the Ministers of Higher Education and Culture and Islamic Guidance, openly said that from among the candidates he had in mind, he had introduced the ones approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Parliament for a vote of confidence.
In a note in Shargh Daily in 2018, Saeed Hajarian called the Supreme Leader, based on the domain of his powers, the “president” of the country as well.
According to Hajarian, “since the current head of the government is even deprived of policy-making in the fields of foreign, defense, and domestic affairs […] the head of the government cannot be even considered equal to a minister in other political establishments, particularly given the fact that he is not even in charge of appointing half of his cabinet. The president is the head of the majority of people; naturally, in the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is the leader who is the master of the people. President means the head of the republic, and this completely applies to the leader. As a result, the person whom we call the president today is eventually someone who sits at the head of the government’s table and chairs the government’s meetings.”

Interference of powers, conflict of policies
Apart from documents and legal books, the government in the Islamic Republic is at most in charge of selling oil, converting a little more than 60% of its revenue to rials, and distributing it among civil and service departments.
However, given this extent of powers, the duties of the government cabinet – or at least what is expected from it – is far more extensive.
The government cabinet and its head are responsible for defending the public interests and staying committed to its election promises. At the same time, it should enact the large-scale policies whose enforcer [the Supreme Leader] is not willing to accept any responsibility for them.
Abbas Akhundi, the Minister of Road and Urban Development, has pointed out this issue explicitly in his resignation, “given the policy of maximum interference of the government in the market and methods of organizing economic affairs under the current conditions of the government, I am not capable of making the necessary coordination.”
He also considered his resignation due to three principles – according to sanctions- and has said that these three principles are, “commitment to law, respecting property rights, and a competitive market economy.”
The resignation shows that the 12th government, which had a liberal tendency in the economy, had to give in to violations to the free market, due to the pressures of institutions outside the government, forcing one of its liberal ministers to resign.

The objection of presidents against presidential powers
One of the most important common points among Iranian presidents is perhaps dissatisfaction with their limited powers and responsibilities.
Approximately 40 years after developing the laws to determine the limits and powers of the president, discussions, and controversies still continue.
From the reformist president Mohammad Khatami to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was backed by the fundamentalists, they have called for clarification and an increase in the president’s powers.
Previously, Rouhani too had announced his resolve to enact the powers of the president one year after beginning his ‘moderate’ government. Grievances of the presidents in the past 17 years– regardless of their political approach – indicate that the president’s powers and his limits, particularly in enforcing the constitution, have created problems.
In his provincial trip to Ardebil, Hassan Rouhani said, “people voted so because the president becomes the first enforcer of the constitution. The president is in charge of enforcing the constitution in the country.”
The dispute is over Article 113 of the constitution. According to Article 113 of the constitution, ‘After the leadership, the President of the Republic is the highest official of the country. He is responsible for executing the constitution.’
Based on this principle, Khatami held that ‘the president cannot stop the violation or lack of implementation of the constitution, or at least there are ambiguities in this regard.’ He prepared a bill for increasing the powers of the president based on the duties proposed in this article of the constitution and sent it to the parliament.
10 years later in 2010, Ahmadinejad said, ‘in my opinion, the mechanisms for the separation of powers haven’t been created wisely; that is because these mechanisms haven’t changed for the past 100 years, whereas during these years, everything has become more complicated.’
Now after 8 years, the 12th government –is trapped in powers it doesn’t have any duties it does have – has been so grounded that before its second year of formation, it is now witnessing four empty seats in the cabinet.

Translated Piece: Zeitoons Website

Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Solmaz Ikdar
Solmaz Ikdar
Journalist and social activist