New Iranian president to take oath before parliament

Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speaks during his first press conference after winning the presidential election, in Tehran, Iran, 21 June 2021. [EPA-EFE / ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH]

New President Ebrahim Raisi takes the oath before parliament Thursday, with Iran facing an economy battered by US sanctions, a grinding health crisis and thorny negotiations on the 2015 nuclear deal.

The ultraconservative former judiciary chief officially began his four-year mandate on Tuesday after he was inaugurated by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Raisi takes over from moderate Hassan Rouhani, whose landmark achievement during his two-term presidency was the 2015 agreement between the Islamic Republic and six world powers.

The country has been grappling with a deep economic and social crisis following former president Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimpose crushing sanctions.

“We believe the people’s economic position is unfavourable, both because of the hostility of our enemies and because of the shortcomings and problems inside the country,” Raisi said on Tuesday.

His new government would seek to lift “oppressive” sanctions, but would “not tie the nation’s standard of living to the will of foreigners”, he added.

The 60-year-old faces warnings to Iran from the United States, Britain and Israel over a deadly tanker attack last week, for which Tehran denies responsibility.

Iran is also battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than four million cases and upwards of 92,000 deaths.

Nuclear talks

Raisi, elected in June polls marked by record abstention after many heavyweights were barred from standing, is set to be sworn in before parliament at 5:00 pm.

Local media said he was also expected to present his proposed cabinet line-up, ahead of the two-week deadline to do so.

Iranian media said several foreign officials had been invited to Thursday’s ceremony, including the Iraqi president and parliament speakers from Niger, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania and Uzbekistan.

European Union diplomat and nuclear deal negotiator Enrique Mora, who met Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Tehran on Wednesday, is among representatives from the bloc expected to attend, according to the reports.

Six rounds of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers were held in Vienna between April and June in an attempt to revive the accord. The last round concluded on June 20, with no date set for another.

Raisi’s presidency is due to consolidate power in the hands of conservatives following their 2020 parliamentary election victory, which was marked by the disqualification of thousands of reformist or moderate candidates.

The new president got to work on Wednesday, chairing a coronavirus task force meeting and also seeing ministers from the outgoing administration, the presidency website said.

‘Multiple challenges’ 

The new president will have his work cut out for him on several fronts, several Iranian newspapers noted after his inauguration.

US sanctions have choked Iran and its vital oil exports, and the economy contracted by more than six percent in both 2018 and 2019.

Raisi will have to “face multiple challenges due to the high number of problems”, an editorial in the ultraconservative Kayhan newspaper said Wednesday, including “unprecedented inflation”, steep housing prices, a private-sector recession and “corruption”.

Ultraconservative daily Javan called on the new government to “implement specific plans to resolve the urgent” problems.

It cited “water and electricity, basic products and vaccinations” as among issues that need to be resolved in the short term.

Rolling blackouts began in Tehran and other large cities last month, with officials blaming the impact of drought on hydroelectric power generation as well as surging demand.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Khuzestan province in the southwest over water shortages.

Reformist newspaper Sharq expressed the hope that “political games will make way for healthy intellectual rivalry and different discourse and voices” in the new government.

“That will only be possible by promoting press and media freedom and great tolerance on the part of government members,” it added.

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