Iran's parliament censures president
Iran's parliament has voted to reject President Hassan Rouhani's explanations for economic hardship after a dramatic grilling on live TV, a sign his pragmatic faction is losing sway to hardline rivals as new US sanctions begin to bite.
The vote in parliament on Tuesday came two days after lawmakers sacked the minister of economy and finance and weeks after they sacked the labour minister, blaming them for the collapse of the rial currency and surging inflation.
Rouhani won two landslide elections on a platform of economic reform and opening Iran up to the outside world, and his pragmatic supporters have a majority in the parliament.
But his reputation and political influence have taken a sharp hit as his promised economic gains have failed to materialise.
His highest-profile achievement was to negotiate the lifting of financial sanctions on Iran in a 2015 deal with world powers over its nuclear programme, but US President Donald Trump pulled out in May and Washington has re-imposed sanctions.
Rouhani spoke out in parliament in defence of his economic record, blaming the country's woes on the US sanctions rather than his team's management.
But a majority of lawmakers voted to reject his explanation in four out of five areas.
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 lawmakers must hold further discussion before that would take place.
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.
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 US allies in Europe, who argued that he undermined Rouhani and strengthened the hands of the hardliners.
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 choice of Khamenei's successor.
The lawmakers asked Rouhani on Tuesday about five subjects: unemployment, slow economic growth, the fall of the rial, cross-border smuggling, and the lack of access by Iranian banks to global financial services.
The parliament found only Rouhani's answer about banks satisfactory.
"I want to assure the Iranian nation that we will not allow the US plot against the Islamic Republic to succeed," Rouhani told parliament. "We will not let this bunch of anti-Iranians in the White House be able to plot against us."
Iran's official unemployment rate is 12 per cent, with youth unemployment as high as 25 per cent in a country where 60 per cent of the 80 million population is under 30.
The rial has lost more than two-thirds of its value in a year.
Iran's economy has suffered not only from sanctions but also from pervasive corruption.
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