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Iran's Rohani May Hold Direct Voting On Economy, Other Issues

  • RFE/RL

"Our economy will not prosper as long as it is monopolized [by the government]," said Iranian President Hassan Rohani. (file photo)

"Our economy will not prosper as long as it is monopolized [by the government]," said Iranian President Hassan Rohani. (file photo)

Iran's president has suggested he may seek to bypass the country's conservative institutions by holding direct voting on issues of national concern.

Speaking in a televised address at an economic conference on January 4, Hassan Rohani said it would be "good" to put issues of economic, social, and cultural importance to a direct referendum instead of to the parliament.

Iran's 1979 constitution includes a rarely used caveat allowing major issues to be put to a nationwide vote.

Rohani made his remarks as part of a broader speech calling for reduced state involvement in the economy and greater transparency in order to end Iran's international isolation.

"Our economy will not prosper as long as it is monopolized [by the government]," he said, adding that increased competition was needed.

Rohani also said the economy must "be transparent" so that "we can fight corruption."

Iran's economy has been hobbled by international sanctions imposed for its failure to comply with Western negotiators on regulating its nuclear program.

Rohani's speech was seen as a criticism of conservatives who supported the unpredictable economic policies of Rohani's predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and powerful economic interests connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Rohani praised lawmakers for adopting in December a measure that would tax organizations overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the military.

Rohani, who was elected in 2013 as a moderate who would reduce confrontation with the West, urged parliament -- which is dominated by conservatives -- to adopt economic reforms and improved taxation.

He said that if lawmakers failed to act, he would consider holding a national referendum.

"As the enforcer of our constitution, I would like -- even just once -- to see conditions ripe for the implementation of a tenet of the fundamental law [the constitution] calling for major economic, social, political, and cultural issues to be put to a public referendum," Rohani said.

He said that provision of the constitution had never been used.

In December, the government presented a "tight" budget that takes into account current oil prices of $50-$60 a barrel. The budget for the fiscal year ending in March was based on oil at $100 a barrel.

That budget, however, forecasts increased revenues based on projected increases in nonoil exports and more efficient taxation.

Iran is currently involved in talks with world powers aimed at regulating Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international sanctions.

Those talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany -- will resume in Geneva on January 15. They are aimed at achieving a political agreement by March and a comprehensive settlement by the end of June.

Iran denies allegations that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and The New York Times
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