Iran's parliament has censured President Hassan Rouhani, voting on Tuesday to reject his explanations for why the country's economy is crumbling. Reuters reports this came after Rouhani underwent a grilling in front of parliament on live TV as hardliners gain the upper hand after crippling rounds of US sanctions.
It's but the latest sign of deep fissures that run to the top of Iran's government after parliament sacked the minister of economy and finance over the weekend.
This followed the labor minister's sacking as well — both were blamed for not staving off the collapse of the rial and surging inflation.
The dismissal of the now former finance minister Masoud Karbasian is unlikely to do anything positive to halt the downward spiral at this late hour with the rial falling to new lows seemingly on a weekly basis against the U.S. dollar.
The rial fell this past weekend to 107,000 to the dollar, while a year ago it was about 33,000 rials to $1.
It signals an overall trend that conservatives and Islamists are seizing the opportunity to gain momentum over moderates and pragmatists amidst trying to survive economic war with the US.
“Over the last year since you became the minister, the dinner table of the people has shrunk to the point of invisibility,” conservative lawmaker Hosseinali Hajideligani told the finance minister during a contentious legislative hearing over the weekend. “The purchasing power of the people has dropped down at least by 50%. You have made the people poorer every day."
Karbasian, for his part, blamed the sanctions while implying there's nothing that could have stopped the pressure from squeezing the entire economy, saying America had “targeted our entire economy and social fortifications.”
“America is seeking to block the country's economic vessels to put people under pressure and stir dissatisfaction,” the finance minister told lawmakers. “They are after hitting the government and ruling system. You should believe that we are at an all-out economic war.”
But in the end a narrow majority of 137 lawmakers in the 260-seat parliament voted to boot Karbasian, suggesting that moderates who joined in on lashing out at the chief administrative overseer of economic policy may have tipped the scales against him.
One reformist lawmaker, Elias Hazrati of Tehran charged: “What have we done? What have we done to the Iranian people?” And questioned further, “Why should the people suffer from this situation? What is the people's fault?”
No doubt, the White House welcomes these growing public divisions as President Trump has now on multiple occasions credited increased domestic turmoil in Iran with his pulling the US from the Iran nuclear deal last May and reimposing aggressive sanctions targeting major industries.
As Reuters acknowledges, "The action in parliament is a further sign of how the Trump administration’s decision to re-impose sanctions could affect Iran’s leadership and its relationship with the outside world, potentially for decades to come."
And yet, as a number of analysts predicted, the hard-nose approach will likely raise the stature of the Islamic hardliners in Tehran, who from the beginning preached that American duplicity, saying the US would never honor the 2015 deal when Rouhani entered into it.
Reuters summarizes this trend as follows:
Iran’s rulers have been divided between a pragmatic faction that aims for better international relations, and hardliners who are wary of reforms. Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal was opposed by U.S. allies in Europe, who argued that he undermined Rouhani and strengthened the hands of the hardliners.
Meanwhile it appears there's likely more carnage within Tehran's leadership to come: following the exit of both the finance and labor ministers this month, Tasnim news agency reported that 70 lawmakers have already moved to impeach a third: the Minister of Industry, Mines and Business.
The long-term ascendancy of the hard-line faction in Iran's government is also likely to make it easier for hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv to make a public case that the regime needs to be toppled.