Less than five months in power, President Ebrahim Raisi’s government already faces pressure by parliament to mitigate the deep economic crisis gripping Iran.
Jalal Mahmoudzadeh a lawmaker in the conservative-dominated parliament told Yekta Press Wednesday that lawmakers’ intention to impeach economy minister Ehsan Khanduzi was “now more serious.”
Parliamentarians have been discussing the move in recent days on the parliament floor and in various committees. Mahmoudzadeh cited appointments made by the minister, problems at the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE), the falling value of the rial, and generally challenging economic circumstances.
While the current crisis is mainly the result of crippling sanctions imposed by the United States, conservatives in and out of parliament who supported Raisi’s bid for office were claiming a quick economic improvement by a government united under “revolutionary forces.” But since August there is little sign of economic improvement and the national currency has fallen more.
While impeachment can be launched with just ten parliamentary signatures on a motion, some lawmakers have claimed that 50 have put their names to impeaching Khanduzi. He would be the first member of the government of President Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) to be impeached.
Khandouzi has also apparently been at loggerheads with other members of Raisi's economic team including First vice-President Mohammad Mokhber and the head of Planning and Budget Organization, Masoud Mirkazemi.
Iranian media claim the influential duo have frozen out the minister, including from the recent decision to axe a special rate of 42,000 rials to the dollar for essential imports. Khanduzi appeared to be in the dark about the decision when it was announced.
Supporters of Raisi in parliament say the impeachment plan is designed to undermine the relationship between parliament and the administration. "Some people want the government to solve the country's problems in 100 days," noted Mohammad-Saleh Jokar, representative of Yazd, December 19.
Iranian media say parliamentarians’ biggest gripe with Khandouzi is the standing of TEDPIX, the benchmark stock index of the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE), with stockholders fearing losses.
Before he was appointed economy minister in August, Khanduzi, had been vocal as deputy chairman of the parliament's economy committee in his criticism of President Hassan Rouhani's economic team and their policies affecting stocks.
"Before becoming minister, Mr Khandozi constantly tweeted and offered advice on resolving the [stock market] crisis,” lawmaker Mohammad-Hossein Asafari told parliament in early November. “He should now employ the same measures to resolve the problems of the stock exchange market.”
A survey conducted by the government-affiliated Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) in July found that over 77 percent of Iranians who had invested in the TSE in the previous two years had seen their shares lose value, while eight percent had seen their shares rise and 15 percent had basically broken even.
ISPA reported that over 20 percent of Iranians invested in stocks when the national currency began losing value in 2018 when US ‘maximum pressure’ began.
In recent weeks Khanduzi has been criticized on social media by small investors whose assets have lost value. They accuse Raisi of neglecting their plight after promising to protect their assets when campaigning for the presidency.