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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Does Rafsanjani want to chair the Assembly of Experts? Beset by hardship, Iranians losing hope for future

Beset by hardship, Iranians losing hope for future By Parisa Hafezi ANKARA Wed Jan 21, 2015 4:49am EST Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar Related News BOJ cuts inflation forecast, governor signals no rush to ease UPDATE 3-Brent crude oil rises above $48.50, but outlook remains weak Full text of Obama's State of the Union address Russia may send S-300 missile system to Iran - media UPDATE 1-Russia may send S-300 missile system to Iran -media Analysis & Opinion Davos faces now customary global uncertainty Ripples from ECB even before it acts (Reuters) - As prices of food, water and electricity rise further beyond reach, struggling Iranians are losing belief in their pragmatic president and his promise of a brighter future. The country has been hit by the double hammer blows of persisting Western sanctions over its nuclear activities and plunging oil prices - but its leaders tell the people that adversity will make them stronger. This offers scant comfort to many ordinary Iranians struggling to support their families as high unemployment and low wages take their toll. They had pinned their hopes on President Hassan Rouhani, who won power in 2013 with pledges to improve the economy by ending the decade-long nuclear stand-off with the West - but a comprehensive deal has still not materialized. "All these promises of improving the economy are just nice words," said Morad Rezaian, a father-of-five who owns a small grocery shop in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas. "I can't feed my kids with empty promises." Mid-way through Rouhani's first term, he has not only angered political hardliners who oppose any rapprochement with the U.S. "Great Satan", but is losing the belief of many of the middle and lower-income Iranians who voted him in and are now shouldering much of the burden of the economic woes. Many ships bringing grain have been turned back from Iranian ports over the past year because Tehran cannot pay suppliers, driving up food prices. Ghanbar Emadi, a private-sector employee in the north-western city of Tabriz, said the cost of a loaf of "barbari" bread had risen by around a third in the past three months alone to 10,000 rials ($3). "Can we afford to buy goods? Of course not. Seems our leaders live in another country than we do when they talk about economic success." DAMAGE For years OPEC member Iran has offset the damaging impact of sanctions with high oil revenues, with much of the country's food and many of the manufacturing parts used to assemble goods in its factories paid for with "petrodollars". But crude prices have halved since June, slashing revenues and compounding the effect of sanctions that have reduced Iran's oil exports by 60 percent to around 1 million barrels a day. "They talk about improved economy - maybe on paper but not in reality. The price of goods is increasing fast and our purchasing power is declining," said 38-year-old housewife Masumeh Zandi in the Caspian Sea port of Rasht. Rouhani's administration has repaired some of the economic damage caused mainly by sanctions, including stabilizing the currency and using conservative monetary and fiscal policies to halve the official annual inflation rate to around 20 percent. But more than a year after reaching an initial agreement with the six major powers over its nuclear program, a final deal has not been struck to end the sanctions that have prompted the government to cut food and energy subsidies in a bid to ease squeezed state finances. "I am not an economist but I know how much I am spending every month," said 42-year-old teacher Mahsa Hosseini in Tehran. "The price of bread, electricity, water and natural gas is increasing. Why? We are an energy-rich country. What happened to all those election promises of Rouhani?" The state of economy has always been a central factor in shaping Iran's political evolution since the country's 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. If Rouhani cannot make good on his promise to lift sanctions, he could lose the support of many Iranians and cede influence to hardliners in the country's complex political structure - leading to a deterioration in relations with the West, diplomats and analysts say. "Rouhani's political career depends on improving the economy. The oil price fall is not helping the government. People are losing hope and in the streets people speak of little else but economic hardship," said a senior Western diplomat based in Tehran. UNEMPLOYMENT Under the interim nuclear accord, Iran suspended its most sensitive nuclear work in return for easing some economic sanctions. But major foreign investments have not taken place because of continued uncertainty on whether sanctions will be eased further. Over 15 percent of workers are unemployed and many jobs pay a pittance. Lifting sanctions would trigger a fresh round of private-sector investment and is the key to rescuing Iran's economy, analysts say. "No one really wants to do business in Iran. Everything depends on the nuclear deal. With the oil prices going down every day, lack of a final deal means we will suffer more," said 32-year-old Mohammad Reza, a real estate agent in the central city of Isfahan who declined to give his surname. "Prices of properties are high and nobody can or wants to buy properties. They are scared to invest in a country with no clear future," he added. Some diplomats say the coming months will be crucial for the economy - and for Iran's pragmatic president. If Rouhani succeeds in penning a final accord, his position will be strengthened and his second term in office guaranteed, analysts say. "But in case of failure of the talks, hardliners will have an upper hand and Iran will become more hostile to the West," said Iran-based analyst Saeed Leylaz. For Iranians, the cost is clear. "Life is very expensive," said Rezaian from Bandar Abbas. "I was hoping that it would end with resolving the nuclear issue, but there is no deal and there is no hope for a better life." (Editing by Angus McDowall and Pravin Char) =========================== Does Rafsanjani want to chair the Assembly of Experts? Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, has announced that the assembly's new chairman will be elected March 10. Following the death of the former chairman, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, five months ago, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi had assumed the role temporarily. However, signs indicate that the chairman's election among the assembly's board of directors is as vague as the outcome of the 2013 presidential election; it’s still unclear who will be elected chairman: Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Shahroudi or a conservative figure? Summary⎙ Print It's still unclear whether Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani will run for the chairmanship of Iran's Assembly of Experts, which supervises and elects the supreme leader. AuthorRohollah FaghihiPosted February 26, 2015 The Assembly of Experts is charged with electing Iran's supreme leader and supervising his activities. Members of the assembly are elected for eight-year terms from lists of candidates by a direct public vote. The next election for members of the Assembly of Experts is to be held February 2016. On March 8, 2011, Mahdavi Kani was chosen as the assembly's chairman following Rafsanjani’s decision not to run for the chairmanship. Before Mahdavi Kani’s candidacy, Rafsanjani had said that he wouldn’t run if Mahdavi Kani stepped forward. At the time, some analysts believed that replacing Rafsanjani was another move to further marginalize him by hard-line conservatives and then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although, according to a source who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, if anyone except Mahdavi Kani — who was considered relatively moderate — had announced his candidacy, Rafsanjani would have nominated himself. Now that Mahdavi Kani is dead and the election of a new chairman is scheduled for March 10, Rafsanjani has warned, “If those whom I don’t consider to deserve the Assembly of Experts chairmanship have the intention of [being a candidate in the election], I will be willing to nominate myself.” In an interview with Al-Monitor, Rafsanjani’s adviser, Gholam Ali Rajai, said: “The Assembly of Experts is an important body, as not everybody is capable of protecting the country and the system’s interests, goals and frameworks, but those who have a notable record are able to succeed in this job.” According to a source who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, Rafsanjani considers Ahmad Khatami, Tehran’s interim Friday prayer leader, and a number of conservative figures, as deserving of the chairmanship. Nevertheless, the aforementioned names don’t have a great chance of victory. Some of them, like Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and Mohammad Yazdi, have already tried their luck, but they failed to attract enough votes compared to Rafsanjani. As a result, conservatives are seeking to nominate Shahroudi, a moderate who has a better chance at being elected chairman because of his relative acceptability among both conservatives and moderates. Shahroudi was born and raised in Najaf, Iraq. The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed him in 1999 as the head of Iran’s judiciary, where he served until 2009. He was then appointed to the Guardian Council. Since Mahdavi Kani's death, conservatives are directly and indirectly saying that Shahroudi will be elected as the assembly's new chairman. Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani, head of the Combatant Clergy Association, said, “There are some speculations on the issue of new chairmanship of Assembly of Experts, but in my view, it is likely that Ayatollah Shahroudi will be appointed.” Hard-line cleric Mehdi Taeb said: “It is highly likely that Mr. Shahroudi will become the chairman of the Assembly of Experts. My prediction is that Hashemi Rafsanjani won’t be chosen as the head of the Assembly of Experts anymore.” In fact, conservatives are emphasizing and announcing their preferred choices for chairman in an attempt to portray Shahroudi’s election as a humiliating defeat for Rafsanjani, which in reality is the opposite. According to a source who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, Shahroudi has a good relationship with Rafsajnani, and contrary to what it is thought, he won’t get along with hard-liners. A sign of Shahroudi’s close relationship with Rafsanjani was seen during the last presidential election, during the Guardian Council meeting that resulted in Rafsanjani's disqualification as a candidate in the presidential election. According to two different narratives, Shahroudi either stormed out of the meeting or didn't attend a later meeting following Rafsanjani's disqualification. Another potential candidate is Ayatollah Abbas Vaeze Tabasi, who serves as Khamenei's representative to the holy city of Mashhad. A source told Al-Monitor that Tabasi is unwilling to enter the game. Yet, even if Tabasi runs for chairman, his relationship with Rafsanjani is so good that, during the 2009 assembly election, he decided not to run in favor of Rafsanjani. Despite all this, Rafsanjani still has the greatest chance of becoming assembly chairman. Rafsanjani’s adviser told Al-Monitor, “Ayatollah Hashemi hasn’t at all ruled out his participation in the election to determine the head of Assembly of Experts.” He added that Rafsanjani "has conditioned his candidacy to the situation before the election” and that he is "a serious choice and is impossible to be eliminated." Rafsanjani’s victory appears to be highly likely should he decide to run. “Whoever competes with Hashemi Rafsanjani is defeated; Mr. Jannati ran for chairmanship, and others tried, but they failed," said Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi, a member of the Assembly of Experts. “Mahdavi Kani was elected due to Hashemi’s decision not to run, because of his respect for Kani. Kani himself said that Rafsanjani conferred this post to him.” Finally, Rafsanjani’s candidacy depends on the other potential candidates. If Shahroudi or Tabasi step in, he probably won’t nominate himself. Nevertheless, ever since the creation of the Assembly of Experts, it’s been a tradition that before holding the board of directors election, chairman candidates reach an agreement, and on voting day, just one person nominates himself. Although, if Rafsanjani steps in, Shahroudi’s withdrawal and nomination of a conservative figure would be predictable. Political observers believe that Rafsanjani's recent remarks, about whether he intends to participate in the forthcoming election, are similar to his words in the 2005 and 2013 presidential elections, in which he ultimately ran for president. If this comes true, we once again face a compelling and sensitive scene in Iran’s politics. Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/iran-assembly-of-experts-rafsanjani-shahroudi.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter##ixzz3T5ktb3Zg

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