By Andrew Hanna
In late 2019, President Hassan Rouhani faced calls to leave office from both hardliners and moderates. The demands followed the largest protests since the 1979 revolution; they were triggered by the Rouhani government’s surprise hike in the price of fuel—by 50 percent—and the introduction of a fuel rationing system.
The political backlash against Rouhani—among politicians and the public—reflected his dramatic fall in popularity since his landslide reelection in 2017. His second and final term officially ends in 2021, but conservative opponents have vowed to impeach him if they win parliamentary elections in February 2020.
As security forces quashed protests across the country, hardliners in parliament introduced a bill on November 18 to initiate impeachment proceedings against Rouhani. The bill received over 60 signatures of support, mostly from right-wing members of parliament. Conservatives latched onto the impeachment drive and used it to step up political attacks on Rouhani’s government.
“My duty is to bring down the president who has hurt the people so much economically,” said Mojtaba Zonnour, the influential chairman of the foreign policy and national security committee, who introduced the impeachment bill. He compared Rouhani to the Islamic Republic’s first president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who was ousted as a “traitor” and fled to France.
Conservatives, including Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi, blamed Rouhani for way the price hike was handled, even though all three branches of government and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei backed the government’s decision.
In 2017, Raisi ran for the presidency against Rouhani but finished a distant second in a four-way race. He was subsequently appointed to head the judiciary and is considered a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The flap over Rouhani’s future escalated on December 14, when reformist icon Abbas Abdi charged that the government was deadlocked and that Rouhani was incapable of making critical decisions after losing the support of his political base. Abdi argued that Khamenei should dismiss Rouhani and call early elections.
In an interview with Seda Weekly, a reformist magazine, Abdi also claimed that members of Rouhani’s cabinet, including First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, had discussed whether Rouhani should resign. Abdi originally gained fame as one of the students who seized the U.S. embassy and dozens of American diplomats in Tehran in 1979.
Government spokesperson Ali Rabiei denied that cabinet ministers had urged Rouhani to step down. “The resignation of the president and the government has in no way been suggested and has no proponents,” Rabiei said, according to Radio Farda.
#Abdi argues that attacks on govt, woes are increasing. Following November protests & rising tensions #Rouhani’s administration can’t make even simple decisions. He claims Rouhani’s resignation discussed among some ministers, VP Jahangiri also reached this conclusion. #Iran— Fereshteh Sadeghi فرشته صادقی (@fresh_sadegh) December 14, 2019
A second reformist weekly, Andishe Pouya, also printed a cover story criticizing Rouhani for failing to fulfill the goals of the reformist movement.
Moderate lawmakers also targeted Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli and two other cabinet members for impeachment over the government’s heavy-handed response to the protests, particularly shutting down internet service nationwide.
But the political dynamics shifted after Abdi suggested that Rouhani resign. Hardliners who had been calling for Rouhani’s impeachment reversed course—and said he should . Conservative newspapers accused Abdi of trying to “destabilize” Iran--citing unrest in Iraq and Lebanon--in order to install a government “obedient to the West.”
#Keyhan alleges #Reformists want to force Pres. #Rouhani or his cabinet to resign in an effort to make I.R. (aka Ayatollah #Khamenei), to accept Rouhani’s meeting with Trump & new negotiations with the #US. Keyhan claims Reformists are playing Iraq, Lebanon card in #Iran.— Fereshteh Sadeghi فرشته صادقی (@fresh_sadegh) December 15, 2019