By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
LONDON, Aug 28 (Reuters) – Pressures mounted on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday as lawmakers summoned him to answer questions on weak economic growth and rising prices, but the parliament was not convinced by his answers and referred the case to the judiciary.
Defending his cabinet’s performance, Rouhani said the economic troubles only began when Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran, but many lawmakers were not satisfied with the answer according to vote results at the end of the session.
If the majority of lawmakers are not convinced with the president’s answers, they can see it as “a breach of law” and refer the case to the judiciary.
The lawmakers have the power to impeach the president, and vote on his lack of competence, but such a motion is not before parliament at this stage.
On Sunday, Iran’s parliament sacked the minister of economic affairs and finance due to the sharp fall in the rial currency and the deterioration in the economic situation. In early August Iranian lawmakers voted out the minister of labour and last month Rouhani replaced the head of the central bank.
Rouhani, a pragmatist who reduced tension with the West by striking a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, now himself faces a backlash from hardliners after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the pact in May.
Rouhani said anti-government protests in early January encouraged Trump to withdraw from the nuclear deal as he was hopeful that economic hardship would stir more unrest in Iran.
The demonstrations, which began over economic hardship and high prices and included chants slogans against the government and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spread to more than 80 cities and towns and resulted in 25 deaths.
“The protests tempted Trump to withdraw from the nuclear deal,” he said, asking lawmakers to support his cabinet and not add to anti-government sentiment.
Although the economic problems were critical, Rouhani said: “More important than that is that many people have lost their faith in the future of the Islamic Republic and are in doubt about its power.”
LAWMAKERS DEMAND ANSWERS
The nuclear deal had lifted sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
But Washington imposed a new round of sanctions in August targeting Iran’s trade in gold and other precious metals, its purchases of U.S. dollars and its car industry. A new round of sanctions to be imposed in November targets Iranian oil sales.
“I want to assure the Iranian nation that we will not allow the U.S. plot against the Islamic Republic to succeed,” Rouhani said told parliament in a session that was broadcast live on state television.
“We will not let this bunch of anti-Iranians in the White House be able to plot against us.”
The lawmakers asked Rouhani about the government’s failure in tackling the rise of unemployment, slow economic growth, and the fall of the country’s currency rial – as well as revenue-sapping cross-border smuggling operations.
Rouhani said his government had asked the powerful Revolutionary Guards to help them in tackling the smuggling.
Lawmakers also asked why the government had not adopted reforms in the financial sector and foreign exchange market, and sought an explanation why, more than two years after the nuclear deal, Iranian banks still had only limited access to global financial services.
The parliament only found Rouhani’s answer about the banking satisfactory and referred the rest to the hardline judiciary.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Alison Williams)