JEDDAH/TEHRAN: Iranian members of Parliament launched a scathing attack on their own government on Sunday as they fired a second Cabinet minister in less than a month.
Masoud Karbasian, the minister of finance and economic affairs, was impeached and stripped of his post. He follows Labor Minister Ali Rabiei, who was dismissed on Aug. 8. Central bank chief Valiollah Seif was also fired last month by President Hassan Rouhani.
Critics say the government squandered the opportunities presented by the 2015 nuclear deal and have failed to tackle high rates of inflation and joblessness.
The Iranian government now appears to be imploding in the face of a collapsing economy, soaring unemployment, a plunging currency and the renewal of sanctions after US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.
Major European firms, including France's Total, Peugeot and Renault, and Germany's Siemens and Daimler, have all announced their departure since the US announcement.
Rouhani’s opponents blame government corruption and mismanagement for the economic debacle.
“Inefficiency and lack of planning have nothing to do with sanctions,” Parliament member Abbas Payizadeh said.
“Wrong decisions have harmed the people and led to individuals looting public assets.”
Even the embattled president’s political allies turned on him in parliament on Sunday.
“What have we done with this nation? We made them miserable and wretched,” said Elias Hazrati, of the “reformist” Hope faction. “The middle class are moving toward poverty.”
Hazrati said the government had failed to plan for the real pain of sanctions, which will hit when a second phase of US measures is reintroduced in November targeting Iran’s crucial oil sector.
“We haven’t been prepared and we are not prepared now. The only person we could get our hands on was the economy minister. Otherwise, the president should have been impeached.”
Karbasian’s impeachment, a vote of no confidence, was broadcast live on state radio. He lost by 137 votes to 121, with two abstentions, and immediately lost his job.
However, sacking a few politicians will not solve Iran’s underlying problems, the Iranian-American scholar Dr. Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News.
“These problems are systemic and exist deep in Tehran’s economic infrastructure,” he said.
“That’s why the rial has plummeted continuously for the past 39 years, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The trend will probably continue as long as the regime is in power
“Unfortunately such a sharp devaluation of the currency makes the financial situation of ordinary people much more severe and strenuous. This can lead to a nationwide uprising against the regime.”
“The reality on the ground is that the Iranian regime’s financial corruption and misuse of public funds, the widespread banking crisis, and the hemorrhaging of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and national wealth on militia and terror groups are among the major reasons for the economic crisis.”
For now, Rouhani remains protected by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said this month that removing the president would "play into the hands of the enemy".
But parliament has summoned the president for the first time to answer questions on the crisis, and he is expected to appear on Tuesday.
One of the key markers of Iran's economic crisis has been the collapse in the currency, which has lost around half its value since April.
That was partly owing to US hostility, but also due to a disastrous decision to fix the value of the rial and shut down currency traders. The move triggered a boom in the black market and widespread corruption, before the decision was finally reversed this month.
Business people in Iran point to other deep-rooted problems, from the debt-ridden banking sector to the outsized and opaque role of military-linked organizations in the economy.
Rouhani has taken small steps to resolve these issues, but most Iranians are dissatisfied with his progress.
There have been persistent, low-level strikes and demonstrations across the country for months over high prices and unpaid wages that have occasionally turned into violent protests against the system as a whole.
Figures released by the central bank on Saturday showed huge jumps in the cost of essential goods compared with a year ago.
Dairy products are up by a third, chicken by more than 20 percent and fresh fruit by 71 percent.