Will Rouhani backtrack on the long road to reform?

Will President Rouhani deliver on his election promises?

Now Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has formally endorsed Hassan Rouhani as president for a second term, following  a landslide election win on May 19, debate on the new Cabinet of Mr Rouhani  has taken a controversial turn, as Reformists grow increasingly suspicious their expectations may not be realised.

Abdullah Nouri, an influential Reformist leader, criticised Rouhani’s likely new Cabinet. “The news that we have heard about the abilities and capabilities of a number of the proposed people for the Cabinet is concerning. The Reformists’ disagreement or opposition to the presence of some people in the Cabinet is being brought up in order to make Rouhani’s promises come true,” he said in a meeting with the Student Islamic Association of Tehran University.

He went on to say, “The concerns of the Reformists are that if Rouhani’s promises and slogans are forgotten and deposited in the archives, the trust of the people will be damaged and the country will be harmed.”

Nouri warned  that Reformists must not shy away from demanding that Rouhani meet his electoral pledges.

The Reformists  decision to throw their weight behind Rouhani led to his victory, and they are now expecting that Reform-minded figures be chosen for the president’s second-term Cabinet. However, reports have emerged about the presence of some conservatives in key positions, including the Interior Ministry.

In recent months, various lists of possible Cabinet members have circulated in the Iranian media. It appears that in contradiction of election pledges to reform,  a number of controversial, conservative ministers – who are not welcomed by Reformists – will remain in the government. Among the most contentious is conservative Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, the incumbent interior minister. Both moderates and Reformists have criticised Fazli for not having picked Reform-minded figures or supporters of the government as governors in the past four years.

Rouhani’s likely decision to name Mahmoud Vaezi as his new chief of staff has also raised criticism among Reformists, who think Vaezi is working with moderate-conservatives to marginalise the Reformists in the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, prominent ministers, including popular Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, will remain in the Cabinet. However, it is not clear whether experienced Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh, who has achieved success in retaking Iran’s market share after the termination of nuclear-related sanctions against Tehran, will agree to continue his work. Zangeneh has reportedly told the president that he is no longer in a mood to deal with his hard-line foes.

It will be interesting to see what the fates of Zarif, Ghazizadeh and Zangeneh — three particularly successful ministers who have been constantly attacked by hard liners over their opinions and plans – will be.

In response to Reformist criticisms, government spokesman Mohammed Bagher Nobakht observed: “The president has heard different opinions about the Cabinet and he himself will make the final decision… The president is committed to the demands of the people and will invite the best, the most coherent and the most appropriate figures to the Cabinet.”

Nobakht continued, “Instead of responding to the demands of certain political currents, Rouhani considers himself responsive to the demands of the people, while not forgetting and respecting the efforts and services of  political currents,” hinting at the Reformists.

In addition, various reports have indicated that Rouhani will not appoint women as ministers, in direct contravention of  an key electoral promise.

Reformist member of parliament Mohammed Reza Tabesh stated that it is highly unlikely that there will be any women ministers. The predient, Tabesh went on, will instead likely  appoint a number of women as his deputies, which is currently the case. In this vein, Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Mowlaverdi Shah  stated  that she will not keep her current position in the next administration. She also predicted there will be no special quota or share for women in Rouhani’s next administration but, she added, negotiations are still underway.

This article originally appeared in Al Monitor

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