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Iran’s "Reformists" Under Fire After Approving Cabinet

File photo - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) delivers a speech to the parliament in Tehran on August 20, 2017

After granting a vote of confidence to 16 of 17 nominees of President Hassan Rouhani for cabinet positions, Iran’s pro-Rouani MPs -- who hold a majority in the parliament -- face criticism for not being harsh enough on some of the president’s picks.

The present majority at Iran's parliament are usually referred to as the reformists in the Islamic Republic's politics.

The sessions for confidence votes were accompanied by some spectacular statements. Ghasem Mirzaei Nekoo, a reformist MP, criticized the house arrest of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, that is attributed to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Opposing the nominee for the Culture Ministry, who is reportedly selected in consultation with Khamenei, Mirzaei Nekoo condemned the ministry’s censorship of books and press.

Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, the nominee for the telecommunications minister, has been accused of being involved in the 2009 crackdown on protesters against the reelection of Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president. The protesters saw the election results as rigged. Jahromi was working with the Intelligence Ministry at that time and allegedly contributed to the expansion of the surveillance system. The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) even said several opposition activists were personally interrogated by him.

By the next election, people may say we have been cheated once, and we are not going to vote for reformists again.
Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political sciences at Tehran University

Due to his background, Jahromi did not have enough independence and would turn Telecommunications Ministry into a second Intelligence Ministry, said MP Mohammad Ali Pourmokhtar.

However, none of these speeches prevented the parliament from approving 16 of 17 of Rouhani’s nominees with an unprecedented majority of votes. Surprisingly, the only nominee who was not confirmed was a famous reformist candidate for the Energy Ministry.

“This is not the first time we have witnessed a weak and disorganized performance by reformist MPs,” Hanif Mazrooei, an Iranian journalist residing in Belgium, told Radio Farda. They made similar mistakes during the recent election of members for the presidential board of the parliament and lost a few seats to rivals, Mazrooei added.

Reformists are putting their credibility in jeopardy, said Saedgh Zibakalam, a professor for political science at Tehran University, in an interview with Entekhab newspaper. “By the next election, people may say we have been cheated once, and we are not going to vote for reformists again.”

Some observers now suspect the voting session for Rouhani’s cabinet was just a show and Khamenei had already chosen the ministers.

A few weeks ago, news broke that Rouhani had sought the supreme leader's preapproval of his cabinet. Some MPs criticized the move, arguing it would limit their leeway. Subsequently, Khamenei’s office issued a statement denying his role in the nomination of “all” cabinet ministers. The statement added that the president only “coordinates” the selection of ministers for defense, foreign affairs, and intelligence.

“Regarding some ministries, including the Science, Education, and Culture ministries, the leader is sensitive, since deviation in their work would deviate the move of the entire country on the path to our ideals,” the statement said.

“It seems Rouhani is trying not to agitate Khamenei so he can go forward with his agenda, particularly in foreign policy and economy,” Morteza Kazemian, an Iranian journalist living in Paris, told Radio Farda.

Even if a miracle happened and there was enough cohesion, Rouhani still had to deal with the interests of the “government with the gun" [IRGC].
Fereydoun Khavand, economic analyst, in an op-ed for Radio Farda

In fact, the government’s “economic team” -- consisting of the central bank, organization for management and planning, the Economy Ministry, and the Industries, Trade, and Mining Ministry -- is now under the full control of the reformists, wrote Radio Farda contributor Fereydoun Khavand in an op-ed. A lack of cohesion on the economic team has been the biggest challenge for the Iranian government. It seems Rouhani tried to overcome this challenge with his new nominations. But Khavand is not optimistic this will lead to major economic developments and reforms.

Even if a miracle happened and there was enough cohesion, Rouhani still had to deal with the interests of the “government with the gun,” wrote Khavand. Rouhani recently used the term to refer to the powerful Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) that controls the major parts of Iran’s economy.

The government and the IRGC did not have equal weight and did not share same ideas on key economic issues, Khavand said. And when there are differences, the upper hand always wins, which is in almost all cases the “government with the gun.”

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    Mohammadreza Kazemi

    Mohammadreza Kazemi is an Iranian journalist and a former colleague at Radio Farda, who still occasionally contributes. He currently lives in the United States.