Rouhani’s Second Administration: A major facelift to come
During an iftar ceremony two weeks ago, Hassan Rouhani gave his cabinet members an ultimatum. He complained about certain executives, he said, who have been ‘slipshod’ and ‘clomped behind’. Observers believe that the president’s explicit remarks indicate a sea change in Rouhani’s second administration.
Following Rouhani’s landslide win in the presidential race, a debate on substantial weaknesses in Rouhani’s first administration and the necessity to make extensive changes in the next became talk of the town.
Hassan Rouhani himself took up the same line when he told an iftar feast attended by ministers, directors, managers, and governors that he had avoided rigor in selection of his team in his first four-your term for certain reasons, which he declined to explain.
Appreciating efforts every member of the administration had made, Rouhani distinguished between those who stood by the administration in full force during the election, rolling up sleeves and those who were slipshod and fair weather friends, keeping company until midway.
“Some individuals stepped up when the administration was attacked, defending it wholeheartedly because to defend the administration was [to them] to defend the nation. Do not be mistaken. It is not advocacy of the administration or nonsense [like this]. The administration is elected by the people. We have nothing but people’s votes. The administration and the nation are essentially the same. Everything belongs to the nation. Those who advocate the administration advocate the popular votes, the majority, and the nation,” Rouhani said in a reference to response administration officials showed in the face of attacks during presidential campaigns.
“[In contrast,] some found it hard to defend, and spoke softly [in response]. If they were pressed by 30 journalists, they would utter a word [or two]. They did not speak, they did not bare their breasts. This cannot be; we are bearing a heavy burden [of duty]. [Only] Those who are ready to shoulder the burden should step forward” Rouhani added.
Who was Rouhani’s target of the complaint? Analyst Sadegh Zibakalam believes the criticism is more pointed at Rouhani’s close circle. “You saw few ministers, few of Rouhani’s close circle to roll up sleeves and become firmly involved. Almost 80 to 90 percent did not. Rouhani bore the burden on his own. In provinces and counties, Rouhani was alone. We did not see anyone from that close circle like Nahavandian or Nobakht to accompany him,” Zibakalam told pro-reform website Entekhab. “Except for Petroleum Minister Zangeneh, Foreign Minister Zarif, Economy Minister Tayebnia, and Healthcare Minister Hashemi, I did not see anyone to step forward to support Rouhani. Of course, Interior Minister Rahmani-Fazli, who is a Principlist and has never claimed to incline toward reform, acted well and helped Rouhani as much as the legal boundaries allowed him,” he added.
Zibakalam then went on to slam Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mohammad Nahavandian and the administration’s spokesman Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht. “Apart from the fact that I seriously wonder what their cause was, I have to say they were not capable of doing anything. I honestly do not know why a man like Nobakht should be in such an important position,” Zibakalam added.
Public criticism echoed in Rouhani’s remarks
Former lawmaker and commentator Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh calls Rouhani’s remarks ‘promising’ and ‘almost unprecedented’. Speaking to moderate website Fararu, the former parliamentarian said Rouhani suffered heavily during the campaigns. “On the one hand, the people were bringing up their demands and on the other hand the rivals’ campaign promises indicated weaknesses in the administration,” Fararu quoted him as saying. “It is a good sign that he has admitted the weaknesses, stressing that some managers have failed to roll up sleeves,” Falahatpisheh added. The Principlist activist hailed the Rouhani administration’s achievement in foreign policy, oil, and healthcare sectors, while saying it has failed in knocking economy into shape.
“The administration has particularly demonstrated an unfitting performance in controlling stagnation and unemployment. It became clear during the campaigns that the Iranian households’ main demand was employment. The administration took the first step after the election, which was taking $1.5b from the National Development Fund for rural employment,” he said, according to quotes published on Fararu. Falahatpisheh further noted the Rouhani administration’s undesirable record in infrastructures. “For instance, the administration should have completed railways in every province, particularly those in the center, but nothing has happened yet. Mr. Rouhani promised during a visit to Kermanshah province that railway would reach the province in four years, but he saw himself during his campaign visit that the promise has not been delivered,” he added.
The former MP also called false pride among administration executives as yet another flaw in the executive branch under President Rouhani. “Two ministries are not willing to negotiate with each other over unfinished project, not only at ministerial level but also at director-general levels,” he reiterated. However, Rouhani’s remarks seems to Falahatpisheh as a sign the President has heard constructive criticism by the public. He anticipated that economy-related ministries, including industry and mining, economy, and agriculture ministries, would undergo more changes in Rouhani’s second administration.
“Rouhani’s first test in the new administration is to launch it through usability evaluation. Sadly, most presidents choose their cabinet members from their own close circles, which is inappropriate. The cabinet should include the elites and its members should not stand on ceremony with the president,” Falahatpisheh said.
A message to people and ultimatum to executives
Fararu also consulted member of the Reformist Consultative Council Abdollah Nasseri who believed Rouhani had clearly reached the conclusion that the cabinet needs a reshuffle. “Rouhani’s remarks were a message for the public opinion and an ultimatum to inefficient parts of the administration,” he told Fararu.
Noting that cabinet members should be able to establish a relation with public opinion and wrestle with the opponents, he said it is clear which parts of the administration need renovation. “More than half of the cabinet should be replaced,” Nasseri added. “In the first phase, the interior minister should be replaced so that the new minister could impose meaningful changes among governors. The way this recent election was held, its many problems and controversies around, indicate that changes are required in the ministry,” Fararu quoted him as saying. The Reformist activist went on to say areas of livelihood and economy, which include industry and commerce ministries, should also be subject to change. He further noted that the administration’s media arm should change, with the first step being a replacement of its spokesman. Nasseri also highlighted education as one of the minuses of Rouhani’s first administration, pointing out to dissatisfaction in universities regarding the ineptitude of the science ministry. He further labeled the labor and welfare ministry as one of the unsuccessful ministries, calling for a change. “Nonetheless, healthcare minister Mr. Hashemi has bared his breast for the administration and defended it from the very beginning. In my opinion, his record gets a pass despite some weaknesses and criticism,” he added.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Nasseri praised the agriculture minister, saying he has been successful despite the fact that he did not want to accept the responsibility at the beginning. Like Falahatpisheh, Nasseri also called for efficiency as the main criterion to form the next cabinet, instead of sticking to past connections, a reference to Rouhani’s managerial team who accompanied him to office from the Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Studies.
Nasseri also criticized the administration’s media arm, saying once again that the spokesman should be replaced. “Mr. Rouhani’s radical rival has the upper hand in media, and thus the spokesperson should be the head of the administration’s media arm,” Fararu quoted him as saying.