Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

Will Rouhani be Iran’s first single term president?

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani speaks at a conference in Tehran, on January 28.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani speaks at a conference in Tehran, on January 28. AFP

Iran’s presidential election will be held on May 19 and since 1981, every Iranian president has won re-election and each premier has served the maximum two consecutive terms permitted by the constitution.

Nevertheless, doubts have been cast about whether Hassan Rouhani will be capable of pulling off a victory. Will he be Iran’s first one-term president?

Fingers are being pointed at Mr Rouhani from almost every direction. The blame has also been attributed to the technocrat team he chose who are mainly western-educated politicians, including Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarid.

One group in particular is more empowered and feels fully vindicated in pointing towards Mr Rouhani’s failures: the hardliners. The hardliners are mainly the judiciary system, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and its five forces, including the Quds Force and Basij, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Assembly of Experts and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader.

Just last week, Iran’s supreme leader rebuked Mr Rouhani for failing to fulfil his promises on improving the economy. Mr Khamenei stated: “We receive complaints from people. ... People should feel improvements regarding creation of jobs and manufacturing. It is not the case now.”

The timing of Mr Khamenei’s speech was intriguing as it came soon after the International Monetary Fund’s recently released report on Iran’s economy. The executive board of the IMF commended the Iranian authorities for “achieving an impressive recovery in economic growth after the lifting of nuclear sanctions in 2016..”

Mr Rouhani and his ministers provided statistics and figures, but Mr Khamenei did not appear fully satisfied with the efforts of the Rouhani government. He said that “presenting reports and figures is good but will not impact people’s lives in mid- and long-term.”

The senior cadre of the Revolutionary Guards has also become more unrestrained as they argue Mr Rouhani’s agenda of rapprochement with the United States and the West has failed. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the assembly of experts that selects Iran’s supreme leader, lashed out at Mr Rouhani’s failure to improve the economy as well.

According to Fars News, he said that “if the resistance economy has not been followed in the way that it should and must have been, then [Rouhani] must apologise and tell them [Iranians] the reasons.”

Mr Rouhani’s attempts to attract foreign investment on a large scale had not materialised. Mr Khamenei rebuked Mr Rouhani: “Attracting foreign investment is a positive measure but so far a very limited [number] of foreign contracts have materialised.”

It is worth noting that Mr Khamenei is resorting to his classic tactic of wielding power while avoiding being held accountable at any cost. To accomplish his objective, Mr Khamenei has always made sure that his presidents take the responsibility for economic or political failure. In addition, he has ensured that the president doesn't wield any actual power.

Mr Rouhani did bring billions of dollars of extra revenues to Iran. But, the major reason that many people did not see the fruit of sanction reliefs or foreign contracts is that the beneficiaries of this additional cash were mostly the elite. Business deals were sealed at state level. The money did not trickle down to the people.

America’s seemingly changing policy towards Iran is also not helping Mr Rouhani. Former US national security adviser, Michael Flynn, put Iran “on notice” after Iran test-fired a ballistic missile in apparent violation of a UN resolution. Iran argued that its ballistic missile is for defence purposes. Later, Iran testfired a pair of missiles and launched military exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, where one third of the global oil traded by sea passes through. Last week, US officials said that an Iranian frigate strayed dangerously close to a US navy ship.

Hardliners are capitalising on the heightened tensions between Iran and the US and hope to stop Mr Rouhani from becoming president for another four years.

Most of Iran’s newspapers, which are owned by the hardliners, have also started a campaign to highlight Mr Rouhani’s failures in domestic, foreign, and regional policies.

Although it seems that criticisms are raining down on Mr Rouhani from almost every hardliner or institution, we should not jump to the conclusion that Mr Rouhani has completely lost the blessing of the supreme leader. Mr Khamenei is still desperately in need of the moderate camp’s diplomatic skills in case Iran and the West faced a perilous geopolitical or economic situation.

Dr Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar and president of the International American Council on the Middle East

On Twitter: @majidrafizadeh

Updated: March 13, 2017 04:00 AM

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