Iran's Parliament Grills, but Mostly Confirms, New President's Cabinet

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

The proposed cabinet of Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, survived its confirmation hearings largely intact on Thursday after four days of grilling by the conservative-dominated Parliament, which accused some nominees of corruption or sympathies with the outlawed opposition.

At the end of the process, which amounted to Mr. Rouhani's first domestic test, the Parliament rejected three nominees -- for the ministries of education, science and sports. Several members of Parliament had accused them of having been close to the 2009 Green Movement that held months of protests against Iran's leaders.

But all of Mr. Rouhani's key nominees were approved, most notably the foreign minister, an American-educated diplomat known for his understanding of the West, which suggested that Mr. Rouhani was moving forward in his campaign pledge to seek a more constructive engagement with the United States than his predecessor did.

The new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was a longtime ambassador to the United Nations and spent half his life living and working in the United States.

Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, a former oil minister, was confirmed to that position again. Other nominees for important positions, like the minister of intelligence, Mahmoud Alavi, and the influential and wealthy minister of industry and mines, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, were approved by large majorities.

During the confirmation debates, broadcast live on state television, hard-line members of Parliament -- whose preferred presidential candidate, the former nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was humiliated by Mr. Rouhani's surprise June election victory -- took aim at several cabinet nominees. Top candidates, like Mr. Zarif and Mr. Zangeneh, faced intensive scrutiny.

Mr. Zarif was accused by one lawmaker, Ataollah Hakimi, of being "100 percent Western."

Mr. Zangeneh was accused of improper connections to Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the son of a former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is widely regarded as the spiritual father of the incoming cabinet.

"If Mr. Zangeneh is nominated we will again witness the coming of that gentleman, Mehdi Hashemi, the petty thief," said Mohammad Ali Borzorghvari, a lawmaker, who was apparently referring to corruption charges faced by Mr. Rafsanjani's son.

In his confirmation remarks, Mr. Zangeneh said that his position would become almost as important as that of the foreign minister, because of the international sanctions that have sharply curtailed Iran's sales of oil, its most important export. He acknowledged that "sanctions have surely created problems for our presence in the global oil market."

Mr. Rouhani was considered the most moderate of the contestants who had qualified for the presidential election under Iran's system, in which an oversight panel of senior ayatollahs vets all aspiring candidates. He faces potential struggles with influential hard-liners in the legislature and other branches of government who could make life difficult for him and his ministers.

"This cabinet will lead your government to a confrontation with Parliament," Mr. Rouhani was warned by one legislator, Mohammad Javad Qodousi.

Mr. Rouhani argued that he had recruited nominees best suited "to face the current situation" after eight years of nonstop economic problems, which even some conservatives have blamed on poor economic management by the previous conservative administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vocal hard-line members of Parliament, supported by the conservative state newspaper Keyhan, said they were worried that some of Mr. Rouhani's cabinet choices had supported the Green Movement, which sprung up in 2009 after Mr. Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election to a second term.

The concern focused mostly on the nominees for education minister, Jafar Mili-Monfared, and science minister, Mohammad Ali Najafi. Both were questioned over whether they had attended student sit-ins or had visited grieving families of protesters killed during riots protesting Mr. Ahmadinejad's suspiciously lopsided 2009 victory.

The criticisms aimed at both nominees showed how polarized Iran's political establishment remains four years later, with hard-liners eager to exclude from power those who did not support the harsh suppression of those riots, in which more than 100 people were killed. Both nominees lost confirmation by large majorities.

Mr. Rouhani's nominee for sports minister, Masoud Soltanifar, a former newspaper editor, was also rejected, although the reasons were not so clear. Analysts noted, however, that all three rejected candidates were for ministries that address youth issues. Hard-liners have long sought control over the science, education and sports ministries, which they say are critical in their aims to socially engineer Iran's youth toward Islam and their political viewpoints.

Iran's conservative-dominated Parliament views itself as the guardian of the country's revolutionary values, and several members of Parliament openly say they do nothing else than follow the orders of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The televised nomination sessions led to much debate among ordinary Iranians, who said they had expected the lawmakers to be more respectful, particularly because Mr. Rouhani had won by an emphatic majority.

"It is shameful they continue to complain of the protests that took place four years ago," said Mehdi, a teacher who asked that his family name not be mentioned for reasons of security. "What matters now is that qualified people take control of the country, not the Parliament's ideological obsession with protests."

Analysts also said that Parliament's objections did not go down well with most people. "They show themselves as the extremists they are," said Nader Karimi Joni, the editor in chief of Janat-e Sanat, a reformist magazine.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here