Iranian legislators on November 1 approved President Hassan Rouhani’s three cabinet picks. This was a move that the Iranian president hopes will help both placate his conservative critics and energize his reformist constituency as he is readying for reelection by May 2017.
Iranian state media reported that Reza Salehi Amiri, Saeed Soltanifar and Fakhredin Ahmadi Danesh-Ashtiani won votes of confidence to lead the ministries of Islamic Guidance and Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs, and Education respectively. The significant gains by moderates and reformists in last February parliamentary election appear to have helped Rouhani to secure the green light for all his three nominees.
At the center of running controversies between conservatives and reformists, the three former ministers resigned last month after Rouhani reportedly expressed “dissatisfaction” with their performance. The former minister of culture Ali Jannati, for example, aroused the ire of conservatives and clerics when he planned concerts in the holy cities of Qom and Mashhad. But when he later canceled the events, he came under criticism by reformists, including the president, for succumbing to hardliners’ pressure.
By introducing new cabinet members, Rouhani, on the one hand, appears to be trying to appease hardliners who increasingly accuse the government of violating Islamic and cultural norms and cozying up to the West; yet on the other, he is attempting to regain popularity amongst his reformist constituents, especially the youth who have not entirely been satisfied with the government’s reform agenda over the past three years.
It is therefore likely that the recent cabinet reshuffle will help Rouhani’s reelection effort. While there is no formidable rival to Rouhani’s bid for the second term at present, the conservatives are expected to unite to present a serious candidate to challenge him next May.