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Iran's President Complains About Lack Of Authority Amid Economic, Diplomatic Crisis

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivering a speech, August 28, 2019, where he complained about his lack of authority.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivering a speech, August 28, 2019, where he complained about his lack of authority.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has once again alluded to his lack of authority in the country to address pressing problems, amid a serious economic crisis.

During a speech on Wednesday, August 28, Rouhani directed his criticism at other state institutions for stepping out of their legal authority and impeding the work of the presidential administration. He singled out Iran’s extensive web of “supervisory bodies” without naming any particular individual or institution.

The Islamic Republic has set up several powerful bodies that fully review and approve all legislation and all elections in addition to interference in many other matters. They are mainly stacked with conservatives and hardliners appointed by the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In addition, Khamenei himself has dozens of offices and representatives under his own direct control, who act as a government within a government.

It is not clear if Rouhani’s remarks were directed also at the Supreme Leader’s immediate circle or the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts.

In recent months Iran’s president has complained several times about lack of authority and has even demanded exceptional powers to deal with the current crisis.

In May Rouhani demanded wartime executive powers to deal with an “economic war” being waged against the country by the United States. Rouhani cited the devastating war with Iraq from 1980-88, when a Supreme Council of War was able to bypass other branches to make decisions regarding the economy and the war effort.

Days later the spokesman of Iran's hardliner-dominated Guardian Council, Abbasali Kadkhodaei criticized Rouhani for complaining about his "limited powers."

Kadkhodai tweeted that "Iranian Presidents have always had extensive powers," adding that "even more authority has been vested in the president in this presidential term in view of the country's situation."

Instead of giving Rouhani additional authority, Khamenei appointed the High Council of Economic Coordination, which calls on all the three powers of the government to decide on economic matters. It consists of the heads of executive, legislative and judiciary powers as well as a number of lawmakers and cabinet ministers. Rouhani finds it difficult to share decision making responsibility and power with others. Meanwhile, the body undermines Rouhani and his economic team.

In addition to supervisory institutions, Rouhani on Wednesday also criticized the all-powerful and conservative Judiciary, also controlled by Khamenei. He asked the institution that controls most of the courts in the country not to deal with cases with political bias.

Powerful regime figures, including top clerics, control government institutions or government-financed businesses where cases of corruption are routinely revealed. But actual prosecutions often take factional overtones, as conservative or hardliner circles enjoy more immunity.

Rouhani also insisted in his speech that as long as interference by supervisory institutions continues, “whoever becomes president in this country” will not accomplish anything.

In the past two years, attacks mostly by hardliners against Rouhani have intensified. In one way, this is a tactic to deflect criticism from the Supreme Leader who directs the country’s foreign policy and is seen by the people as responsible for Iran’s isolation and crushing sanctions. In another way, hardliners hungry for more power and economic privileges target the relatively pragmatic Rouhani and establishment reformists in his administration.

Rouhani two years ago also harshly criticized the Islamic revolution Guard Corps for being a government within a government. The IRGC continues to exercise influence in many matters, but this time Rouhani has not mentioned the Guards.

It is not clear to what extent his criticism is also directed against the Supreme Leader, but it certainly encompasses numerous Khamenei advisors and his inner circle that work parallel with the government and inevitably either intervene or have veto power over crucial matters.

Perhaps more than anything else, Rouhani is agitated because of lack of authority to tackle tensions with the United States. Last May Rouhani complained about lacking the authority to respond to calls by U.S. officials, for instance during his visit to New York in September 2018 to attend the UN General Assembly.