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Hardliner Body Calls For Extensive Changes in Rouhani's Cabinet

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati speaker of the Assembly of Experts, addresses a meeting of the newly-elected assembly in Tehran, May 24, 2016
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati speaker of the Assembly of Experts, addresses a meeting of the newly-elected assembly in Tehran, May 24, 2016

Iran's hardline-dominated Assembly of Experts has called on President Hassan Rouhani to be accountable for Iran's "chaotic economic situation," and demanded extensive overhaul of his cabinet.

In Iran’s worsening economic situation, hardliners have been increasingly putting the blame on Rouhani, demanding action.

Iran’s economy has nosedived due to long years of sanctions, but more fundamentally because of mismanagement and lack of structural reforms. Hardliners who play a major role in the inefficient system are the first to oppose serious reforms.

The AoE statement published on the website of IRGC-linked news agency Tasnim, also addresses Rouhani's economic team and the other powers of the government, but its demands particularly address Rouhani.

According to Tasnim, "the statement called on Rouhani to bring about extensive changes in the cabinet and among his senior economic and financial managers to improve the country's economic situation," using what elderly AoE members called "lively forces."

The Assembly told Rouhani to do this "without any consideration," meaning that Rouhani should forget about his cabinet members' political affiliations or their personal bonds with him as his long-time team members.

The Assembly of Experts' main function is to determine a new Supreme Leader when he is no longer around or capable to meet his official responsibilities, and to supervise the leader's performance. Nevertheless, the assembly has been always criticized by both hardliners such as former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and reformists such as Abolfazl Qadiani, for being subordinate to Khamenei rather than to exercise checks and balances to control his authoritarian rule.

The Assembly's mission statement does not include offering policy options to the executive body or meddling with executive affairs of the state.

However, following protests that started with public discontent over the country's economy and soon turned into political dissent, more than 190 of parliament's 290 members last week also called on Rouhani to make essential changes to his cabinet to address the ongoing economic crisis, which is marked by a fast-declining currency and rising prices.

The AoE statement further called on Rouhani "to stop lip service and start addressing the people's financial hardships and particularly the problems of the underprivileged strata."

The statement has been signed off by "The Assembly of Experts." However, it is not clear whether it reflects the views of its members or presidium, or simply contains the views of its Chairman Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.

A statement issued by the Assembly in May against Rouhani, turned out to have been authored and signed only by Jannati when other Assembly members said they had not signed such a statement and did not agree with its contents. Later, the AoE secretariat admitted that the statement reflected the views of the chairman and not the members of the Assembly of Experts.

The new statement by the AoE, regardless of who signed it, could be yet another attempt by Iran's hardliners to exert their influence on the cabinet and rob Rouhani of some of his ministers who are relatively moderate conservatives. These include Labor, Economy, Housing and Mining ministers who are from Iran's reform camp although like most Iranian reformists, their policies are far from implementing real reforms.

In the second term of former pragmatist President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1992-1997), hardliners managed to take control of several ministries including Culture and Trade, curtailing Rafsanjani's power to a minimum.

Iran's hardliners do not conceal their plan to take over a few ministries, but Rouhani has reminded them several times during the past year that "their candidate lost the election in 2017" and they should let the winner to implement his policies with his own team.