Once the Spokesman of the Iranian Parliament announced not to refer Rouhani’s issue to the judiciary, the most heated disputed ever between the executive and legislative powers in Iran was closed. The scapegoats in this simmering dispute were the minister of finance and economic affairs and the minister of labor, who were both voted out by the parliament.
Reasons for Parliament’s desire to hold Government accountable
The endless protests and the ongoing bubbling discontent because of deteriorating economic conditions, the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, and the re-imposition of economic sanctions, as well as, an oil embargo expected in November made Iran’s parliament —whose members’ true political affiliations are not clear until voting on major domestic issues — impeach the government.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei did not stop the impeachment; he probably paved the path to it. This is a very smart move from Khamenei; who is trying to pacify the public as Iran’s economic woes increase and another economic storm is fast approaching; while distancing the Revolutionary Guard and its affiliated organs from the crisis and its responsibility, as well as, presenting the political uproar as a sign of the “strength of Iran’s democracy.” He seeks to test Rouhani’s loyalty to the regime as the drums of “economic war” beat louder. Khamenei needs to know whether Rouhani is the right man to address Iran’s economic crisis, or changes need to be made to the regime, as well as, ensuring that the ruling elite and the domestic front are strong enough to address the crisis.
The Revolutionary Guards were monitoring Rouhani’s answers to the questions in parliament and implicitly revised their own policy after pushing him to face this challenging test. Although Rouhani’s pragmatic supporters are the largest faction in the parliament, they did not rally behind him. They organized a new faction to impeach him because of his failure to address the economic crisis or there is a probability that they took revenge since they did not receive Cabinet positions during his two terms in the presidency.
Rouhani to confront or negotiate?
As the parliament announced a plan to impeach the Rouhani government, some thought Rouhani would seize the opportunity to blame the Revolutionary Guards and the Supreme Leader’s office —along with the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the re-imposition of sanctions— for the economic crisis. Considering the political considerations, Rouhani realized that he should set aside his remarks -to gain popularity among Iranians- rather than risk his political career and jeopardize the whole country’s political stability.
Two main options are on the table for Rouhani: First, to accuse the Revolutionary Guards and the Supreme Leader for the crisis which would probably incite a dispute, and the parliament would have to settle it. The reformists, who do not possess the most seats in the parliament, are not satisfied with Rouhani’s governance, so they would most likely organize a faction against Rouhani. This faction could expand with the support of the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards. Consequently, Rouhani could face a no-confidence motion by a third of the parliament’s members and a two-thirds vote could impeach him. Second, to keep silent about the Revolutionary Guards’ economic violations and turn a blind eye to his previous remarks which would help him, especially as he has appeared in parliament. In addition, he could blame the U.S. administration’s plots against Iran for the deteriorating economic situation.
Rouhani made his decision
When Rouhani spoke out in the parliament, he said, “I would like to be committed to the points and recommendations the Great Supreme Leader ordered to be carried out in this session.” He wanted to make clear to the parliament that what he said had been approved by the Supreme Leader and he had agreed with him on all the areas he had covered. Then, Rouhani started receiving the five questions set by the lawmakers.
Rouhani had, on many times, accused the Revolutionary Guards of destroying Iran’s economy. He said on June 2017, implicitly pointing to the Revolutionary Guards, “We handed a portion of the state’s economy to a state with a rifle. This state, which carries a rifle, controls all media outlets, and nobody can compete with it.” He responded to goods smuggling saying, “there is a corrupt body able to smuggle goods, they do not want the country to flourish.” Media outlets, loyal to Rouhani, revealed that the Revolutionary Guards’ affiliated firms had withdrawn money from Iran’s banks and converted it to U.S. dollars.
He responded to the parliamentary questions, “I should make it clear to the Iranian people that we will overcome this crisis with the power of God, the guidance of the Supreme Leader, and cooperation with the three branches of the government and Armed Forces.” He added, “according to smuggling goods and hard currency, the Armed Forces, particularly, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, play a key role that should be appreciated. The Supreme National Security Council assigned the Revolutionary Guards Corps to counter smuggling in the Gulf, and the Sea of Oman, as well as, on the eastern and western lander borders.”
It is the people’s fault
Rouhani claimed that the economic crisis Iran faces now is generated by foreign pressures, denying any misgovernance from his government. He did not point to the impact of the ‘destructive’ role of the Revolutionary Guards on the country’s economy. He did not stop here; he blamed the protests that broke out across Iran in December 2017 for triggering President Trump to withdraw from the nuclear deal, worsening the economic crisis and bringing down the regime.
Votes of the parliament
The parliament voted that Rouhani’s answers were not satisfactory, except for one answer about the recession. Rouhani confirmed that Iran faces only a very slight recession as in economic language it is negative growth which is consistent over the course of nine months, which has not occurred during his presidency. The members of parliament voted to refer the matter to the judiciary. The lawmakers confirmed the decision would be made on September 2. That was after the Supreme Leader met with Rouhani at the annual meeting; known as: “Week of Statehood.”
Khamenei rewards Rouhani
During the period of the nuclear deal, Khamenei used to criticize the Rouhani government, listing its weaknesses in the economic field. But now, while the Rouhani government is heavily stumbling across its worst economic performance, Khamenei praised it saying, “the government is capable to manage the national economy […] The parliament members question the president, who won with 23 million votes, and he answers with high self-confidence and this is what religious democracy means.” Rouhani replied, “the people rallying behind the Supreme leader will thwart the enemy’s plots.” “Since the subject of the lawmakers’ questions to the president was not a violation of the law, the presiding board decided not to refer the issue to the judiciary,” MP Behrouz Nemati said.
Did Rouhani lose the Iranian people?
Rouhani could not utter a word against the negative role of the Revolutionary Guard in the country’s economy. Both Khamenei and Rouhani agreed not to take up any direct talks with the United States, and not to negotiate on the country’s ballistic missile program or its military presence abroad. It seems Rouhani has just lost the trust of his grassroots supporters, who believed that he was the best of the rest.