Hassan Rouhani Proposes Referendum to Heal Iran’s Divisions, End Internal Crises

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized Sunday the authorities’ meddling in the personal affairs of the citizens and the interference in the presidential elections, saying that restrictions should be lifted against those aspiring to run in polls, Asharq al-Awsat reports.

He said too many people have been alienated by Iran’s ruling establishment and proposed holding a referendum in an attempt to heal divisions in a country recently struck by an outburst of public discontent.

The president made his remarks during a rally in central Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square marking the 39th anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

“There is no solution to preserving the revolution’s system and the country except through the participation of the people. When the revolution took place, we were all together and there were plenty of passengers on the train of the revolution; some of them wanted to get off the train themselves, and we got some of them off the train whom we didn’t have to. Today, we have to let them board the train again,” Rouhani went on to stay.

Rouhani, who is at odds with hardliners, was speaking a month after protests over economic grievances spread spontaneously to as many as 80 cities, taking on a political dimension. The unrest resulted in the deaths of at least 25 protesters and jailing of more than 3,000 people, many of whom remain in prison.

Divisions in Iran’s political system have deepened and the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi remain under house arrest. The leader of the country’s reformist movement, Mohammad Khatami, faces severe restrictions on his political movements and even the former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become outspoken about the state of the repression.

On a possible referendum, he said that disputes among political blocs could be resolved through a vote. He referred to article 59 of the constitution that says that economic, political, social and cultural issues can be tackled through the people’s vote.

“Today, we need everyone, including principalists, reformists, moderates and everyone who recognizes the constitution, for the country’s development and progress. The constitution should be our point of reference … If we disagree on some issues, we should refer to the article 59 [the constitutional article on holding referendums],” Rouhani said.

Rouhani’s speech was largely aimed at his domestic audience, but he also talked about regional issues without directly addressing the confrontation over the weekend between the Syrian army and Iranian-backed forces, and Israeli fighter jets. The moderate cleric dismissed concerns over Iran’s regional behavior and credited his country for the retreat of Islamic State.

“With the help of the Iraqi and some regional countries, Tehran thwarted the conspiracy to partition Iraq into two states,” he continued.

He also addressed the internal situation in Lebanon, accusing the United States of seeking to create unrest and long-term chaos and transform it into a war zone. A week earlier, Rouhani had addressed the recent anti-government regime protests, saying said that the people were not driven strictly by economic reasons, but by social, political and foreign policy concerns.

Rouhani noticeably refrained from bringing up the recent Iranian-Israeli escalation over the weekend. He did, however, address the 2015 nuclear deal struck between Tehran and world powers, saying that the American administration had failed several times in this file.

“We will commit to the agreement as long as the other side remains committed to its vows. They will be harmed if the United States withdraws from the deal,” he warned.