Iran’s conservative-dominated majlis has approved most of the cabinet members selected by the newly-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, but rejected three nominees, two of whom were vetoed because of past links to the Green Movement.
“Key positions in the new cabinet are now held by technocrats and pro-reform moderates,” the Guardian’s Saeed Kamali Dehghan writes:
Mohammad Javaz Zarif, a US-educated veteran Iranian diplomat previously involved in secret Tehran-Washington talks, was confirmed as the country’s new foreign minister and Bijan Zanganeh as the oil minister. Only three nominees were blocked, including Mohammad Ali Najafi and Jafar Mili Monfared, who were rejected apparently because of their past support for the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who are currently under house arrest.
“The intensity of the hearings points to the difficulty that Rouhani may face in bridging the divide between conservatives, with whom he has long worked as a member of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, and reformists, who have overwhelmingly supported his candidacy,” Jason Rezaian writes for the Washington Post:
“Are the Rouhani before and after election different people?” Attaollah Hakimi, an ultra-conservative lawmaker, railed in one of the televised sessions Monday. “Why do you want to revive the sedition movement?” He was referring to the 2009 protest movement that followed the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani’s choice for oil minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, served as campaign adviser to Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader who lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election. Post-election violence led to the deaths of dozens of protesters, and Mousavi is still under house arrest.
“Zanganeh is not at all a suitable candidate for the Oil Ministry,” said Mehdi Mousanejad, a member of parliament’s energy commission, said in a legislative hearing this week. “His thought process and his relationships with those in the sedition movement cannot be forgotten.”
Rouhani’s cabinet selection has been interpreted as a promising signal by some observers, noting the diminished representation of Revolutionary Guard Corps representatives. But others have highlighted the absence of authentic reformist voices as a sign that Rouhani remains a consummate regime insider.
Ostensibly committed to change, Rouhani may find it impossible to avoid the fate of previous chief executives who failed to “make headway against the ideologues who hold final sway over Iran’s national and international policies,” says Jamsheed K. Choksy, professor of Iranian Studies and chairman of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University.
Human rights activists criticized Rouhani’s choice of Mostafa Pourmohammadi as justice minister, because he is implicated in rights violations and the execution of political prisoners after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“Pourmohammadi’s nomination would be not only a blow to all those who fight against impunity in Iran, but also one more act of humiliation for the families of the journalists and dissidents killed or tortured while he was in office,” said Lucie Morillon, head of the research at Reporters Without Borders. “One should not underestimate the chilling effect his nomination could have on the ability of journalists and news providers to independently and effectively inform the public.”
The invaluable Iran News Round Up adds:
- President Hassan Rouhani defended his cabinet appointments, praising them for their bipartisanship. He also criticized the Parliament’s “tone” during debates but said that he recognized all criticisms.
- Defending Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi for Minister of Roads, Housing and Urban Construction: “He had the courage to say in the presence of the Supreme Leader during sensitive years that not only no cheating has taken place in the election but that there is no possibility to cheat in Iranian elections. I congratulate him for expressing his belief; he is one of the individuals who will be committed to the system, [Supreme Leader] and the velayat-e faqih.”
- During the pre-vote Parliamentary debates of Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet appointments, there has been heavy opposition to Rouhani’s Oil Minister nominee Bijan Zanganeh, who was Oil Minister during Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s administration. The opposition, consisting of Principlists, alleges rampant corruption, rent-seeking and “shameful oil agreements” during Zanganeh’s Ministry. MP Ali Reza Zakani criticized all oil agreements during Zanganeh’s tenure and stated, “[R]ecorded statements of Mr. Zanganeh exist, and if you are inclined, I will put on the recording so you can observe what was his saying ‘yes’ was about.” Zanganeh’s supporters defended his record and expertise.