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Rouhani Concerned About New Hardliner-Dominated Parliament

President Hassan Rouhani (left) with chief of staff, Mahmud Vaezi, undated. FILE PHOTO

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and his Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi have been sending mixed messages to the country's new Islamic Republic Parliament ahead of its opening on May 28.

Rouhani tweeted on Monday: "As the Majles turns 40, and starts the fifth decade of its activity, the people are looking forward to the cooperation between the Majles and the administration during the next year. The administration is reaching out to the new Majles for friendship."

On the same day, Vaezi warned the next Majles not to intervene in the affairs of the administration.

Some of the conservatives who dominate the new Majles had vowed during their election campaign to question Rouhani's performance once in the legislature. Some have even threatened to impeach Rouhani for his poor performance during the past seven years and particularly for his reaction to major events such as the nationwide protests in November 2019.

Rouhani's last year in office as Iran's President coincides with the first year of the 11th Majles. Several political analysts in Tehran have said that Rouhani is likely to have a hard time in his dealings with the Majles once the parliament leaves its first few weeks behind and elects its speaker and presidium members.

At least three of the four conservative factions, the ultraconservative Paydari and Pro-Ahmadinejad groups as well as the pro-Qalibaf neoconservatives have made it clear that they oppose the Rouhani administration and will stand against it once the Majles starts its business.

The administration's media outlet, Iran daily in its May 26 issues extensively covered the administration's expectations of the new Majles, however, it did shy away from highlighting Rouhani and his administration's concerns about the possibility of damaging confrontations with parliament.

Although it is highly unlikely that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would allow the Majles to take the idea of impeaching Rouhani any further, but he couldn't care less about criticisms that might damage Rouhani's image and his political ambitions beyond his presidency. Rouhani is far less than Khamenei's ideal model of a president. He has said at least twice recently that he wants a "youthful revolutionary president" in 2021. The new Majles is full of aspiring examples for that model.

Rouhani's concern about what the Majles might have in mind about him is clearly evident in the way the administration's mouthpiece, the Iran newspaper, has configured its interviews with four pro-administration and pro-reform figures, a media expert, an academic and a conservative analyst. The way the opinions are lined up and presented in the paper emphasize the need for “healthy interactions” between the Majles and the administration.

Akbar Torkan, a confidant of Rouhani, said the Majles should refrain from intervening in executive affairs, and suggested that instead of creating trouble for the administration, parliament needs to restore its damaged status and prestige.

Gholamreza Ansari, a leading member of the reformist Unity of nation Party offered some pragmatic advice and told the new Majles to try to avoid tensions with the administration ahead of the 2021 presidential elections. Ansari suggested that the Majles should try to resolve the deadlock surrounding the anti-money-laundering and terror-financing bills that in reality have already cleared parliament and are being held back by hardliner watchdogs.

Another member of the same Party, Majid Farahani suggested that the new Majles should avoid differences and disputes with other institutions, without noting that within the Islamic Republic's political structure, some of these institutions have the upper hand in legislation and may overturn any decision by parliament.

Academic Gholamreza Zarifian called on the new Majles to have a realistic approach to Foreign Policy but did not say how this can be done despite the approach of powerful institutions that drag the country in a different direction.

Media analyst Hassan Beheshtipour advised that the Majles needs to be in some kind of accord with the administration and conservative analyst Nasser Imani opined that the Majles should stay away from political disputes within and outside the parliament and instead, attempt to follow up the idea of amending the Election Law.

Former reformist MP Mohammad Reza Khabbaz expressed his concern about the way the new members of the parliament might attack the administration in its last year in office because of old grudges and factional interests. Reminding that some of the new MPs have said they want to impeach Rouhani as soon as the new parliament opens, Khabbaz said this might disrupt the state of affairs in the country.

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    Behrouz Turani

    Behrouz Turani is a British-Iranian writer and journalist as well as a consultant on Iran's political dynamics and the Iranian media landscape.