Rouhani’s Second Cabinet

What Do the Cabinet Changes Tell Us About Rouhani’s Second Term?

Despite the existence of a number of reformist and conservative names in the new cabinet it looks, at least on paper, a non-partisan one as Rouhani had promised to form.

After being re-elected in a landslide victory on May 19th, the President Hassan Rouhani took his oath in the Iranian Parliament before parliamentarians and foreign dignitaries on August 5th. On August 8th Rouhani announced the new cabinet, twelfth in the country’s history, which received a vote of confidence from the Parliament with the exception of Habibollah Bitaraf, nominated Minister of Energy. Rouhani reshuffled half of the cabinet although the new Minister of Science, Research and Technology is yet to be announced. Despite the fact that Iran’s President had promised to form a younger cabinet with higher participation from women, there is no female minister among the 17 announced names of the 18-member cabinet and the average age of ministers, 57.5, is now even higher than the eleventh cabinet where it was 55 years. 36-year old Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Minister of Information and Communications Technology, is the youngest member of the cabinet while 65-year old Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, Minister for Oil, is the oldest. Nine ministers, including the much debated Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, Minister of Interior, kept their seats. Considering the fact that no conventional political parties as such exist in Iran and governments have traditionally been formed through “politics of compromise” it is not surprising to see individuals with different political backgrounds in the new cabinet. Yet, coming to the presidency after the eight-year tenure of the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani is still seen by many Iranians as a second Rafsanjani who could potentially reform the system from within. For many, however, his first term barely carried any reformist agenda at least in domestic politics. In his first term, Rouhani spent much of his time and energy to reintegrate Iran into the wider world community which he thought would be possible via the nuclear deal. In the next four years, he is expected to concentrate on domestic issues. A closer look at the cabinet reveals that economy will be Rouhani’s primary agenda for the second term. This is most clearly reflected by the new names chosen for Rouhani’s economy team.

11th & 12th cabinets

No

Ministry 

11th cabinet

12th cabinet

Vote of Confidence

Yes

No

Abst.

Inval.

1

Minister of Education

Fakhroddin Ahmadi

Daanesh Ashtiani

Seyed Mohammad Bathayee

Approved

238

35

13

 

2

Minister of Information and Communications Technology

Mahmoud Vaezi

 

Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi

Approved

152

120

7

9

3

Minister of Intelligence

Mahmoud Alavi

Mahmoud Alavi

 

Approved

252

22

13

1

4

Minister of Economy

Ali Tayebnia

Massoud Karbasian

Approved

240

31

15

2

5

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mohammad Javad Zarif

Mohammad Javad Zarif

Approved

236

26

26

 

6

Minister of Health

Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi

Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi

Approved

253

18

14

3

7

Minister of Labor, Cooperatives and Welfare

Ali Rabiei

 

Ali Rabiei

 

Approved

191

79

15

3

8

Minister of Agriculture

Mahmoud Hojjati

Mahmoud Hojjati

Approved

164

94

23

7

9

Minister of Justice

Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi

Seyed Alireza Avayee

Approved

244

18

23

3

10

Minister of Defense

Hossein Dehqan

Amir Hatami

Approved

261

10

13

4

11

Minister of Roads and Urban Development

Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi

Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi

Approved

188

75

14

1

12

Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade

Mohammad Reza Ne'matzadeh

Mohammad Shariatmadari

Approved

241

25

20

2

13

Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance

Seyed Reza Salehi Amiri

Seyed Abbas Salehi

Approved

242

25

21

 

14

Minister of Interior

Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli

Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli

Approved

250

25

13

 

15

Minister for Oil

Bijan Namdar Zanganeh

Bijan Namdar Zanganeh

Approved

230

35

23

 

16

Minister of Energy

Hamid Chitchian

Habibollah Bitaraf

Rejected

133

132

17

6

17

Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports

Masoud Soltanifar

Masoud Soltanifar

Approved

225

39

20

4

18

Minister of Science, Research and Technology

Mohammad Farhadi

 

To be announced

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Technocratic Government?

When announced, Rouhani’s list of ministers did not satisfy any of the parties, conservatives and reformists alike. Based on an analysis of the eight new members it is possible to say that the twelfth cabinet is that of a technocratic government where almost none of the names has a radical political position. 54-year old Seyyed Muhammad Bathayee, Minister of Education, has spent much of his career in the Ministry of Education and has served as the Deputy Secretary General of that ministry for many years. The 36-year old Jahromi, the former deputy minister of information in the 11th cabinet, is a clearly strategic move by Rouhani to communicate a message to the Iranian youth. Jahromi’s recent message in his social media account about their plan for lifting the censorship on YouTube at universities was a move to introduce him to the public. 61-year old Massoud Karbasian is certainly one of the most important names in the new cabinet as well as in Rouhani’s economy team. As a veteran bureaucrat and a learned economist Karbasian has published many books and translations in economics, served as deputy minister to Ali Tayebnia, the former Minister of Economy, and was in charge of Iran’s customs administration. His economy program is a mixture of Rouhani’s policy of re-engaging Iran to the world economy and the Ali Khamenei’s Defensive Economy. The four problems Karbasian identifies in Iran’s economic policies are dependence on oil income (naft-zadaghi), state’s dominant role, (dolat-zadaghi), unfairness and non-transparency (rant-zadaghi) as well as politicization (seyasat-zadaghi). The conservative Seyed Alireza Avayee, the new Minister of Justice, is another significant name in the new cabinet. As an experienced bureaucrat with a long judicial career he is a part of Rouhani’s non-partisan cabinet. The selection of Amir Hatami as Minister of Defense is directly linked to the Supreme Leader’s approval. Unlike the hardliner Hossein Dehqan, the former minister, Hatami has a moderate political leaning. It is important to note that the Minister of Defense enjoys limited powers compared to the military authority of the Revolutionary Guards’ commanders and Iran’s Staff-in-Chief. Mohammad Shariatmadari, the Minister of Industry, is another reformist name in the new cabinet. Having served in critical positions during Hashimi Rafsanjani’s presidency he acted as Minister of Commerce during Muhammad Khatami’s presidency. Seyed Abbas Salehi’s selection as the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance was also an important decision. Salehi is not known for a specific political position although he has conservative leanings. Rouhani’s cultural policies in his first term were much criticized. The performance of the new minister will be important for Iran’s President. Habibollah Bitaraf’s failure to gain a vote of confidence came less of a surprise than the high votes of confidence received by Rahmani Fazli and Hatami. Having served as Minister of Energy during Khatami’s eight years presidency Biraraf was one of the major reformist figures in the proposed cabinet. Bitaraf was criticized for his water administration and the dams constructed under his ministry.   

Despite the existence of a number of reformist and conservative names in the new cabinet it looks, at least on paper, a non-partisan one as Rouhani had promised to form. Further, there seems to be a consensus between Rouhani and the Supreme Leader about giving priority to economic policies. This is reflected in the extensive changes made in Rouhani’s top economy team. However, although Rouhani still has to keep political reforms in his agenda, he will try to avoid any direct confrontation with the establishment in his second term.  

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