The spokesman for President Hassan Rouhani administration says the hardliner dominated Guardian Council has "insulted" Rouhani by describing the President as "the forerunner of an anti-national project to undermine national unity."
Ali Rabiei, who responded to the accusation in a commentary in the administration's daily newspaper Iran on Saturday January 18, told Guardian Council Spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai not to be the spokesman of "a certain minority."
Earlier, Rouhani had accused the Guardian Council of turning a sizeable political faction into "opposition."
Constant challenges by Iranian hardliners appear to have put President Hassan Rouhani at one of the weakest points of his presidency.
One of the latest challenges to Rouhani's authority as the officially designated figure to uphold the Constitution, came last week from the Guardian Council, a body that, among other things, vets candidates for the Parliamentary and Presidential elections.
Last week, Rouhani criticized the Guardian Council for disqualifying reformist and moderate candidates for the parliamentary elections that is scheduled to be held on February 21. Rouhani charged that "All of those whose qualifications are endorsed by the Guardian Council come from the same faction: the hardliners.
The Guardian Council responded that 90 current lawmakers who have been disqualified to run for the Parliament (Majles) are affiliated with various conservative parties. Kadkhodai told the Iranian state TV that the reason for their disqualification was their involvement in "financial corruption, crime, and other matters."
However, Rouhani on Wednesday criticized thje Council for disqualifying nearly all of the reform minded and moderate-conservative candidates. "All of those whose qualifications are endorsed by Guardian Council come from the same faction: the hardliners," Rouhani charged.
On the same day, the Guardian Council issued an official statement accusing Rouhani of "creating tension" and "not being well-informed." The statement added: "It is not good for an executive official to speak without researching."
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Guardian Council alluded without naming anyone that Rouhani was angry because people close to him have been disqualified. Rouhani's own son-in-law is one of the disqualified candidates. But many reformists, even some incumbent lawmakers did not get through the net.
Rabiei said in his commentary published in the daily Iran saidthat the Guardian Council's supervision of elections is not according to the Iranian Constitutional Law.
Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei who has lost his position as an arbiter between political factions after he supported one faction against another in the 2009 elections, has remained silent about the dispute, four weeks ahead of the election. Strangely, he has not recently encouraged people to take part in the elections, as he did in the past.
In the meantime, some Iranian observers including reformist analysts believe Iran's hardliners are more or less certain about a landslide victory that would practically push relatively moderate politicians such as Rouhani out of power for many years if not forever.
The absence of well-known reformist figures among those qualified to run for the Majles, confirms Iranian political analysts' view about the possibility of a landslide victory for hardline conservatives in the upcoming elections.
During the past decade while Iranian reformists have shifted to the center of the political spectrum and formed a coalition with relatively moderate conservatives such as Rouhani and Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, Iranian hardliners moved under Khamenei's leadership to further right on the spectrum becoming more radical in both domestic politics and foreign policy.
At the same time, the hard core of power in Iran under Khamenei’s control has been getting thinner and smaller by alienating various moderates, pragmatists and reform-minded individuals and groups. Although Rouhani's shift to the right wing was quite visible during the past year and his views have been getting closer to hardliners, it appears that those remaining in the core of power still see him more as an instrument rather than an ally.
Yet another observation based on pictures and footage of the last public appearance of Iranian leaders, including the January 17 Friday prayers, reveal that there is discrimination even in alienating former top officials in favor of conservatives. While former reformist President Khatami is absent, former ultraconservative President Ahmadinejad has still a place in the front row, though within a meaningful distance of the center-stage.
While until last year, Rouhani was a hopeful contestant for succession as the Supreme Leader, his administration's performance as well as his own individual mistakes in various situations following recent protests and other key events, coupled with constant challenges by his political rivals, might land him on a seat at the Expediency Council alongside other retired politicians.