TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday ruled out resigning and vowed to see out his term, even as he admitted he had offered to step aside twice since being elected.
Speaking ahead of a general election next Friday, Rouhani also appealed to voters to turn out despite the fact that many moderate and reformist candidates were disqualified from the race.
Rumours have swirled in Iran recently that the 71-year-old, whose second and last term ends next year, had been planning to quit, but his office denied the reports.
Rouhani’s government has come under fire over the state of Iran’s sanctions-hit economy and for allegedly failing to fulfil election promises.
The legitimacy of Rouhani and his government have been called into question after they were left in the dark for days after the armed forces admitted they “accidentally” shot down a Ukrainian airliner on January 8.
Hardliners have attacked his administration for negotiating a nuclear deal with world powers that ultimately backfired when the United States withdrew unilaterally and reimposed harsh sanctions.
“My resignation does not make much sense… we have made promises to the people and we will continue to fulfil those promises” despite the economic situation and pressure from “the enemy”, Rouhani said, referring to the US.
“The idea of resigning (because of these recent problems) never occurred to me.”
But Rouhani admitted he had offered to resign twice in the past, and that they were rejected by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“In the first months after my election, I told the supreme leader ‘If you think for some reason that someone else or another government can serve the country better, I’m ready to go’,” said Rouhani.
“He vehemently rejected it,” he told a news conference in Tehran.
Rouhani, a moderate conservative, said he raised the issue with the supreme leader again during his second term.
“I would not even let the government leave its responsibility an hour earlier, not a month or a week earlier’,” he quoted Khamenei as saying.
Rouhani’s supporters suffered a setback in the lead-up to the February 21 election after more than half of the 14,444 who sought to stand were disqualified, most of them moderates and reformists.
Despite the purge, Rouhani called for a strong showing at the election.
“All elections are important to us, and I urge all people to come to the ballot box and vote… to choose the best (candidates) and have a good parliament,” he told Sunday’s news conference.
Iran’s seventh president, Rouhani won election in 2013 after promising greater social freedoms and the benefits of engagement with the West.
He delivered on the second pledge in 2015, when Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
The president was re-elected in 2017 with the support of reformists.
But support from those who backed him in the past has fallen away badly amid criticism over his austerity measures.
In November, street protests broke out in Iran over a surprise petrol price hike.
They spread to dozens of urban centres and turned violent before being put down by the security forces.
Iran’s economy has been battered since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal, with the World Bank estimating it shrunk by 8.7 percent in 2019.