Under Article 89 of the Iranian Constitution, an impeachment motion against a sitting president requires signatures from one-third of lawmakers to officially go before parliament. With 290 parliament members currently serving in a parliament dominated by pro-government moderates and Reformists, that goal might seem to be far-fetched and unrealistic. But the bumpy road is not holding back a small group of ultraconservative lawmakers who have been using everything in their disposal to discredit President Hassan Rouhani and his government.
The architect of the motion, which has only drawn 18 signatures, is Mojtaba Zolnour, a conservative cleric representing the holy city of Qom. "Some 80 other parliament members offered their verbal consent, but they were not willing to leave their signatures," he said. Those lawmakers, according to Zolnour, have promised to vote against Rouhani if an impeachment session is eventually held.
The 14-point document revolves mostly around Rouhani's economic performance, including his perceived mishandling of the country's unemployment crisis and his failure to curb inflation. Largely seen as a symbolic gesture, the attempt was not taken seriously by the Reformist media. However, Etemad daily speculated about the possibility that it was the hard-liners' bid to replace Rouhani with a military general of their choice from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The article quoted one of those involved in the impeachment push as saying that they have already contemplated Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf as an alternative. Ghalibaf is a former senior IRGC commander who lost the vote to Rouhani in 2017 after two earlier presidential election defeats in 2013 and 2005.
19dey, another pro-Reform daily, argued that the plan "runs counter to the principle of political unity and contradicts the supreme leader's advice." The paper claimed that the move had no ground of support among the public. Many on social media, including conservative critics of the government, echoed the view. One user identifying himself as a "the young revolutionary" reposted an older speech by the supreme leader and reminded the supporters of the bid that a Rouhani impeachment is no exit strategy and only "plays into the hands of the enemy."
Despite representing the voice of a significant majority of the anti-Rouhani camp in Iran, the conservative daily Javan, which is close to the IRGC, did not embrace the impeachment idea either. "From the people's viewpoint, such moves are seen as politically motivated steps and are meant to put a spike in the government's wheels," the paper wrote.
However, Hossein-Ali Haji Deligani, one of those who advanced the motion, denied any political or partisan intentions. He stressed that the plan was triggered by Rouhani's "weak" performance in handling the economy. Mohammad Javad Abtahi from the same camp took an even tougher stance than his peers. To him, the problem with the president is not about the economy. "Mr. Rouhani does not have the necessary political competence to run the government," he said, using the very legal term from Iran's Constitution that justifies an impeachment. But he did not stop there. Abtahi called on Rouhani to pass strategic management courses, read history and even retake his clerical courses at the seminary.
Although an impeachment attempt seems to have little chance of success under the current circumstances, voices of disappointment with Rouhani continue to be loudly heard even from among the Reformist camp's top figures. Senior Reformist ideologue Saeed Hajjarian said he does not rule out the idea that the president may never make it to the end of his term in 2021 as economic and budget strains continue to disrupt his government's balance sheet. To paint a more pessimistic picture, he warned that public hope will diminish to the point where people will find no solution in ballot boxes in the country's 2020 parliamentary elections. Warnings of that nature have also come from administration officials, most notably newly appointed Minister of Health Saeed Namaki, who urged the nation to "tighten belts" for hardships to come in the months ahead.
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