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Iran's Rouhani Asks For More Powers, Khamenei's People Say 'No'

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani attend a government meeting in the capital Tehran, May 14, 2019

The spokesman of Iran's hardliner-dominated Guardian Council, Abbasali Kadkhodaei has criticized President Hassan 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."

The hardliner spokesman of the Guardian Council then asked Rouhani "Have you used these extensive powers to solve the country's problems?"

Rouhani has complained more than a couple of times about what he called his "limited powers" since the anniversary of his taking office as president for a second term in May 2017.

During the past few days, Rouhani first said he lacked the authority to respond to calls by U.S. officials for talks last September when he was in New York for the UN General Assembly. Then he complained about the limitation on his authorities to tackle the country's problems and asked for the same powers Iran's chief executive was granted during the war with Iraq in the 1980s, and finally called for holding a referendum to solve the country's major foreign policy problem among other things.

By "major foreign policy problem" Rouhani could not mean anything other than negotiating with the United States to resolve the ongoing deadlock in bilateral ties.

But for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei foreign policy is his exclusive domain. He is set in his anti-American, anti-Western ideology and he has repeatedly said there is no retreat from that.

Kadkhodai was not the only one criticizing Rouhani for calling for more powers and lashing out at him for shortcomings in his administration's performance. It is now a known common practice at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's office to have some hardline figures respond to comments he is reluctant to respond to in person and in public.

In a commentary in the Khamenei-controlled hardliner newspaper Kayhan, the daily's editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari asked Rouhani why he came forward as a presidential candidate for a second term when he knew everything about the scope of his powers and its limitations as he was part and parcel of the regime for 40 years?

Like Kadkhodai, Shaiatmadari also reminded Rouhani that "You had enough powers," adding that he was not able to use those powers sufficiently. Addressing Rouhani directly, Shariatmadari wrote that the President should "mention precisely what measures he has taken or was planning to take that he was not able to because of a lack of authority? …Please go ahead! Explain at least a few of them to the public! For instance, what steps have you taken to confront uncontrolled prices, inflation, and unemployment?"

Kayhan reminded Rouhani of what he had said during his election campaign: "I swear to God that I would not have nominated myself if I did not have solutions for the very complicated problems of this country."

Further reminding Rouhani of his failures, Kayhan lashed out that "Whatever the reason for not meeting your promises, it is not lack of authority!"

Some of Rouhani's supporters also criticized him for his remarks about his powers and for the performance of his administration.

In an interview with reformist newspaper Aftab Yazd on May 21, Sadeq Zibakalam, a political activist who says he has wholeheartedly supported Rouhani in his campaign, said: "the Rouhani administration has had too many mistakes during the past two years. It has repeatedly taken wrong decisions on the economy."

Speaking about Rouhani's powers, Zibakalam said that he has sent two letters to Rouhani about being transparent about his administration's shortcomings, but he has not responded to him. "The President is complaining about his limited powers at a time when the rate of inflation is very high and economic growth is negative. Rouhani's complaint in the current situation is simply a pretext" to justify his failures.

Zibakalam added that "Rouhani has disappointed 24 million voters" by forgetting his promises and not bringing about a change, adding that if the people did not want a change they would have voted for a hardline candidate instead.

He said that during the past two years, "instead of being committed to meet the people's demands, Rouhani behaved in a way not to annoy the conservatives. He saw his main responsibility as pleasing the conservatives."

Former Presidents Ahmadinejad and Mohammad Khatami also used to complain about limitations on their powers and both asked for more authority, but Khamenei refused to share part of his powers with them. Akbar Rafsanjani was an exception (1989-1997) as he had the upper hand in Iran's political scene when Khamenei had just started his career as Supreme Leader. However, Rafsanjani paid the price of his short-lived supremacy over Khamenei when he was ostracized from 2009 until his death in early 2017.