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Rouhani suggests direct public vote to end political gridlock

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani proposes referendum to decide path forward for Iran.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani delivers remarks at a news conference during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, U.S. September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith - RC147D2F0420

During a speech marking the 39th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for a direct vote to end moments of political gridlock within the country, a controversial move that is certain to anger the country’s hard-liners.

Citing a mostly unknown constitutional article, Rouhani said, “If we have differences, we must refer to Article 59 of the constitution … which says, in certain cases of passing laws or legislative acts on important social, cultural, economic or political issues, we must send it to a direct vote by the people.”

Rouhani continued, “If we have differences on two issues, or the factions have differences, or they are fighting, bring the ballot box out and according to Article 59 of the constitution, whatever the people have decided, implement that. Our constitution has this capacity, and we must act within the capacity of our constitution.” Rouhani’s Twitter account also later tweeted this segment of the speech.

Rouhani, who has been opposed by the country’s hard-liners and unelected officials since first taking office in 2013, has faced stiff resistance in introducing social and economic reforms, despite his re-election in 2017. His comments about a direct vote are an indirect criticism of the Guardian Council, a 12-member body that vets candidates who run in Iran’s elections and vets laws passed by Iran’s parliament. The supreme leader selects six members of the council. The other six are elected by parliament among nominees recommended by the head of the judiciary, who himself is appointed by the supreme leader.

Unlike the hard-liners in unelected positions, Rouhani and other moderates and Reformists have relied on elections to stay in power. This is why in earlier parts of the speech, Rouhani asked the Guardian Council to make participation and running in elections easier. “To protect the system and the revolution, we have no other path than the participation of the people. And if our revolution has remained, it is because of elections.”

He continued, “We have to ease the path to elections for the people.” Rouhani means the path to running as candidates, not necessarily voting, given that in Iran voting falls on a Friday, which is the equivalent of a Sunday in the United States.

Rouhani’s calls for a direct vote comes amid the news of arrests of a number of environmentalists in Iran, with one death so far while in custody. The family of Kavous Seyed Emami was notified Feb. 9 that the 63-year-old Iranian-Canadian professor died 16 days after his arrest. Tehran’s prosecutor office told his family that he had hanged himself, which the family does not believe. Seyed Emami was the managing director of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation and a professor of sociology at Imam Sadegh University.

Caught up in the round of environmentalists is Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of Iran’s Environmental Department, who had returned in part in answer to Rouhani’s calls for Iranian professionals to return to the country. After reports surfaced of his arrest, Madani posted a video on his Instagram page to say that he is free and well.

Regarding the arrests, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said Feb. 11 that he did not have precise information regarding the arrests, but added that some activists have “questionable connections,” meaning likely with foreign governments and that their cases are under review.

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