Iran’s Rouhani questioned in parliament

Iran’s parliament has declared its dissatisfaction with President Hassan Rouhani, voting to reject his answers after grilling him over the deteriorating economy.

Rouhani’s appearance in parliament on Tuesday was the first time he had been summoned by parliament in his five years in power.

Members of parliament demanded explanations for unemployment, rising prices and the sharp depreciation of the rial, which has lost more than half of its value since April.

The MPs, who have already impeached his labour and economy ministers this month, were unimpressed with the answers.

In votes at the end of the session, they expressed dissatisfaction with Rouhani’s responses to four of their five questions on the economy, which will now be referred to the judiciary for review.

There were conflicting reports about what would follow from the vote: several Iranian news agencies said Rouhani’s case would now be referred to the judiciary, although the spokesman for the parliamentary leadership, Behrouz Nemati, said the MPs needed to hold further discussions before that would take place.

Rouhani has been under intense pressure since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers, worsening an economic crisis and sparking a series of domestic protests.

In Tuesday’s session, he blamed Iran’s economic woes on an “American conspiracy” and urged parliament to support his cabinet.

“There is an anti-Iran group sitting in the White House that is planning a conspiracy against us,” Rouhani said. “But together we will tackle this phase.

“It should not be said we are facing a crisis. There is no crisis. If we say there is, it will become a problem for society and a threat,” he said.

While Rouhani and his cabinet run Iran’s day-to-day affairs, ultimate authority lies with the Supreme Leader, 79-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in power since 1989. Weakening the pragmatists now could affect the successor chosen to follow Khamenei.

For now, Rouhani’s own position appears safe. The judiciary may determine that he broke the law and parliament has the power to impeach him, but experts on Iranian politics say power struggles are more likely to play out indirectly.

“The parliament’s move is politically motivated and indicates that tensions would increase in the Islamic Republic in coming months,” Saeed Laylaz, an Iranian economist, told Reuters by telephone from Tehran.

“Iranian political factions have always used international issues to pursue their domestic gains,” he added.

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