A Friendlier Majles Confirms New Rouhani Ministers

President Hassan Rouhani addressed the Islamic Republic’s Majles (Parliament) on Nov. 1 on the occasion of confirmation hearings for three new ministers.

With the help of his supporters within the Majles, all three nominees won votes of confidence and are now ministers at least until new presidential elections scheduled for May 19, 2017.

Dr. Fakhroldin Ahmadi Danesh Ashtiani, a university professor, received 157 votes out of a possible 289 to be confirmed as Minister of Education. Dr. Reza Salehi Amiri — the current head of the National Library and Archives Organization — received 193 votes for the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Massoud Solatinfar — who is currently Vice President and head of the Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts, and Tourism Organization – got 180 votes to become Minister of Youth and Sport.

The confirmations were the first concrete demonstration of improved support from parliament for the Rouhani administration following implementation of the nuclear deal in January and elections in February. Results in both the parliamentary voting and elections for a new Assembly of Experts – a body tasked with supervising and anointing a new Supreme Leader – were a great victory for Rouhani. All 30 parliamentary seats in Tehran were won by a so-called “List of Hope” that supported the nuclear deal, while a similar pro-government list took 15 of 16 seats in the Assembly of Experts. The results were similar nationwide. It is clear that the new Majles will be an asset for the Rouhani administration and could facilitate domestic reforms, particularly in the banking and financial sector, and improve the climate for foreign investment.

The vacancies came about after Rouhani asked for the resignation of three ministers who had served in his cabinet since 2013. Ali Jannati, the outgoing minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, is the son of a prominent conservative who chairs the Guardian Council, a body that vets all candidates for elected office. The younger Jannati had relatively good support within the cinema and arts community, but had angered many religious leaders in Qom and Mashhad by approving musical concerts in these religious cities. The prior minister of Sports and Youth, Mahmoud Goudarzi, was disliked by sports organizations within the country, especially soccer leagues and the national team. Meanwhile, Ali Asghar Fani, who served as the minister of Education, was widely criticized for changes in the system and a recent embezzlement scandal involving the teachers’ foundation.

In his speech to the Majles, Rouhani discussed the problems his government faced when it took office in 2013 and the progress it had achieved in reducing inflation and boosting economic growth. He noted that his decision to make foreign policy his top initial priority was the result of his promise to alleviate sanctions imposed on Iran because of its nuclear program.

“Our new position in the international community, and our policy of understanding and mutual respect, have been the chosen foreign policy behavior of this government which is fully supported by the Supreme Leader and the regime,” Rouhani said.

He suggested that implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is just the beginning of a long road to what he sees as a bright future for Iran, and that cooperation on key issues between the government and Majles would produce fruitful results.

“Today there is no competition on the international stage for increasing sanctions on Iran,” Rouhani said. ‘The world has come to the understanding that they must speak to Iran with mutual respect and dignity. Those who had built an imaginary wall around us, so we would not be able to sell more than a million barrels of oil, they are witnessing today, that we are free to choose to who and in what quantity we see our oil” – which is currently more than two million barrels a day.

Rouhani also noted that for the first time, non-oil exports are greater than imports, which is a clear sign for more economic prosperity in the near future.

Even though problems with the banking system are not fully resolved, Iran has been working with former and new partners to find solutions and new banking opportunities around the world, including in Japan, South Korea, Italy and Germany. Rouhani also mentioned the new arena of cooperation in nuclear sciences where Iran is “importing the once forbidden yellow-cake and is exporting the nuclear product from the previously forbidden Natanz.”

Rouhani pointed out that Iran’s economic performance has exceeded that of other oil-producing countries at a time of low oil prices. “How is that even though every oil-exporting nation is facing devastating economic problems, and all of them have used their national reserves, including rich nations like Saudi Arabia, it is only Iran that has been resilient through these economic impacts and has increased national growth, decreased inflation, reduced unemployment, and added to the national reserves,” he said.

Criticizing remaining hardliners in the Majles who oppose his administration, Rouhani said, “today, aside from some revolutionary pretenders who do not understand the complexity of national and foreign policies, the majority of international [non-governmental and inter-governmental] organizations have named Iran as the best and most secure foreign direct investment destination. If we unify and have a singular voice of hope and encouragement, imagine what will happen then.”

It is evident that Rouhani is banking on the nuclear deal’s success to insure his re-election.

As a result of the JCPOA, he said, Iranians are already freer to choose the products they desire. “The JCPOA has increased Iran’s choice of consumers, export destinations, and ultimately freedom of choice in purchasing around the world,” he said.

Rouhani stated that inflation in Iran had dropped from 40 percent to 8 percent, growth has rebounded to 4.4 percent compared to a negative 6.8 percent and may rise to 5 percent next year. He spoke further about the importance of reducing unemployment, stating that “employment is a key issue that we hope to mitigate by helping small and medium sized enterprises and the national banks.”

Mehran Haghirian is an Iranian Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service in Washington D.C., and an Intern at Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative. @MehranHaghirian

Image: President Rouhani addressing the Majles on November 1, 2016