DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament rejected President Hassan Rouhani’s third nominee to lead the coveted Ministry of Higher Education, underscoring the difficult task he faces in implementing his promised social and political reforms.
The choice of Minister for Science, Research and Higher Education is sensitive because the ministry sets the ideological direction for universities, which have been a hotbed of pro-democracy protests and clashes with security forces.
Parliament, where Islamists hold a majority, voted 160 to 79 with seven abstentions to reject Mahmoud Nili Ahmadabadi, Rouhani’s third attempt to fill the job since his landslide election last year on a platform of social and political reforms.
His first choice, Mohammad Ali Najafi, was dismissed over alleged ties to mass protests that followed ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009. The second nominee, Reza Faraji-Dana, was initially approved but impeached in August, only nine months into his tenure.
Criticised for his no-show in parliament to defend his former minister Faraji-Dana against impeachment, Rouhani made a point of attending Wednesday’s debate to plead for a yes vote, joined by his high profile foreign minister and nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“We are at a very sensitive juncture. Our oil revenue has dropped 30 percent, insecurity has engulfed the region and we are facing new global challenges,” Rouhani told parliament, alluding to the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, both governed by strategic Iranian allies.
“My government is not stubborn. It respects the vote of representatives in parliament. Just mind you that every time there’s been a rift between us, the enemy has jumped in to take advantage.”
Iranian universities have a tortured history dating back to the authoritarian, pro-Western rule of the Shah, deposed in the 1979 Islamic revolution, and were hit particularly hard in the crackdown on dissent since 2009. Many students were jailed and professors lost their jobs.
Rouhani’s government has slightly eased restrictions, but he has moved slowly in order not to antagonize the powerful conservative establishment in the Islamic republic.
Reporting by Mehrdad Balali and Michelle Moghtader in Dubai and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans