Iran's Hardline Lawmakers Prepare Potential Impeachment of President Rohani

Economic crisis, exacerbated by rising inflation, growing unemployment, a slump in the local currency, and the coronavirus crisis, leads lawmakers to carry out the rare move

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Iranian President Hassan Rohani gives a press conference, Tehran, October 14, 2019.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani gives a press conference, Tehran, October 14, 2019.Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi,AP

Iran's hardline lawmakers plan to summon the president for questioning, a move that could ultimately lead to impeachment, media reported on Monday, amid growing discontent over the government's economic policies.

Iranians' daily struggle to make ends meet has become harder since the reimposition of U.S. sanctions in 2018, and the economy has been further damaged by rising inflation, growing unemployment, a slump in the local currency, the rial, and the coronavirus crisis.

A motion to question President Hassan Rohani was signed by 120 lawmakers out of 290 and handed to the presiding board of the assembly, Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. To take effect, the motion must be passed to the president by the presiding board.

However, analysts say the board might hold back from issuing the summons, mindful that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top authority, has called for unity among the branches of authority at a time when Iran faces mounting U.S. pressure.

A move by parliament to question Rohani’s predecessor was blocked by a rare intervention by Khamenei.

File Photo: Iranian lawmakers burn two pieces of papers representing the U.S. flag and the nuclear deal as they chant slogans against the U.S. at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, May 9, 2018. Credit: AP

"The lawmakers have various questions for the president, including the reasons behind the foreign exchange market crisis as well as the high prices of basic goods and basic necessities of the people today," Tasnim quoted Tehran lawmaker Eqbal Shakeri as saying.

Defying central bank attempts to revive its value, Iran's rial currency has continued to fall against the U.S. dollar on the unofficial market since April.

First elected in a landslide in 2013 and re-elected in 2017, Rohani opened the door to nuclear diplomacy with six major powers that led to a 2015 nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its sensitive nuclear work in return for the easing of sanctions.

But hardliners opposed to the West were always lukewarm about the agreement, and they fiercely criticized Rohani when U.S. President Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have choked Iran's vital oil exports.

A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Gulf July 25, 2005Credit: RAHEB HOMAVANDI/ REUTERS

Iran's sanctions-damaged economy forced Khamenei to give tentative backing to the accord but the country's top authority has regularly criticized its implementation.

According to Tasnim, lawmakers also planned to ask Rohani about "the government's strategic mistake that allowed the U.S. withdrawal from the deal at the lowest cost".

On Sunday, shouts of 'liar' interrupted a speech to parliament about the accord by Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif as some lawmakers vented their displeasure.

Zarif, also Iran's top nuclear negotiator, hit back by saying that the nuclear talks had been agreed by Khamenei.

Analysts say the hardline Khamenei may be happy to have a weakened Rohani, but he does not want to harm the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic by forcing the president out of office with less than one year of his second-term left.

Parliament has no major influence on foreign affairs or nuclear policy, which are set by Khamenei. But it might bolster hardliners in the 2021 election for president and toughen the anti-Western tilt of Tehran's foreign policy.

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