Iran Lawmakers Deal Blow to Rouhani With Cabinet Rejection

Iran’s parliament overwhelmingly rejected Hassan Rouhani’s nominee to head the science ministry, in a boost to the president’s hardline opponents.

The president had nominated Mahmoud Nili Ahmadabadi, the chancellor of Tehran University, to run the ministry that oversees Iran’s universities, following the impeachment of the previous science minister, Reza Faraji-Dana, on Aug. 20.

Nili-Ahmadabadi lost the vote 79 to 160, said Ali Larijani, the speaker and leader of Iran’s Majlis, or parliament,in a live broadcast on Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Network.

Faraji-Dana had irked hardliners for allowing the return of students and professors expelled from colleges -- some for political activities -- during the rule of Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The vote is a signal from the conservatives to Rouhani to not even think about reform,” said Alireza Nader, senior analyst at Rand Corp. in Arlington, Virginia. “This shows the limits of Rouhani’s ability to make changes.”

Rouhani appeared before legislators ahead of the vote to defend his choice, telling lawmakers that “the people appreciate neither distance, nor, God forbid, stubbornness.”

The president faces mounting criticism from opponents, most of them hardline conservatives, for his support for less restrictive cultural policies and his engagement with the U.S. over Iran’s nuclear program.

While lawmakers this week submitted a motion to impeach the culture and Islamic guidance minister, a representative of the Principalist bloc of conservative lawmakers, Abbas Moghtadaei, said today that parliament wouldn’t hold further impeachment proceedings “in the near future.”

Speeches during the vote on Nili’s nomination underscored the divisions in the assembly.

Saeed Mahmoud Nabavian, a hardline legislator from Tehran who voted against, accused Nili of showing “a lack of attention to Islamic values” during his tenure at Tehran University, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

Defending Rouhani’s nominee, lawmaker Mohammad Ghasim Osmani said a meeting meant to approve a minister felt more like an attempt to convict him of “sedition.”

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