Can parliamentary obstruction by Stability Front delay JCPOA implementation?

The opponents of the government in parliament are reportedly trying to use obstruction as a new tool to disrupt parliamentary proceedings for implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Opposition by the so-called Worrier MPs to the Iran nuclear deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is the eleventh government’s marquee achievement, has entered a new phase. on October 8 published an analytical report on what the [Islamic Revolution] Stability Front is seeking to do in dealing with the Iran nuclear deal in parliament and on whether its obstructionism can put on hold the implementation of JCPOA. The following is the translation of the report:

From the beginning of the two-year nuclear marathon in the eleventh government, hardline MPs have spared no effort to throw obstacles in the way of clinching an agreement [with P5+1]. They are expected to reveal their ace in the hole on Sunday (October 11) [in opposition to the nuclear deal].

The Worriers have opposed the deal in different ways: throwing shoes at the country’s diplomacy team when people welcomed home their negotiators at the airport; sending Zarif in a wheelchair to nuclear talks in Geneva; holding chain gatherings against nuclear talks; and now releasing a one-sided report on JCPOA which is in line with the views of Saeed Jalili [the chief nuclear negotiator during Ahmadinejad’s presidency] and voting ‘no’ – despite the previous agreements – to a motion which is to help the government implement JCPOA.

By taking all these measures, they have no more than one objective: throwing a wrench into the works of government in implementing JCPOA and undermining the favorability of the [Rouhani] administration. But, the weapons they used failed to work and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action entered its final stage.

The Islamic Consultative Assembly is expected to put to the vote the Iranian Government’s Reciprocal and Proportional Action Bill which is tagged with single urgency. [If approved] The bill authorizes the government to voluntarily implement JCPOA in keeping with the decisions of the Supreme National Security Council.

Reports coming from parliament indicate that the Stability Front is seeking to obstruct Sunday’s in-house vote (to stop the chamber from making a quorum) to re-delay the decision which is to be made on the fate of JCPOA.

The bill on JCPOA implementation – an initiative by the parliament speaker – was pieced together jointly by two parliamentary caucuses: the Followers of the Leader [Rahrovan-e Velayat] (the majority) and Principlists (the minority). The bill’s double urgency was put to the vote in parliament on October 4 after the JCPOA Review Committee read out its report on the Iran nuclear deal.

The Principlist Caucus went back on its words and did not vote for the bill’s double-urgency status; so the bill was passed carrying a single-urgency status. The bill was then sent to the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee which will later submit it for debate on the floor.

Now that the Stability Front has learned that the majority of MPs will vote for the bill, it is trying to stop the chamber from making a quorum so that the passage of the bill can be held up as long as possible.

Can the Stability Front resort to obstruction?

Obstruction is in fact a pre-coordinated move in which a number of MPs leave the chamber to prevent it from proceeding with the legislative processes and debating and voting on the motions and bills it has on its agenda.

According to Article 98 of the Islamic Consultative Assembly’s in-house directive, at least two-thirds of MPs should be present if the chamber wants to hold a session and vote [on legislation]. The ninth government has 290 seats. This means members of the Stability Front need to make more than 97 MPs walk out of parliament if they seek to use obstruction as a tool.

As the list of MPs from the Stability Front shows, the number of deputies who have made it to parliament on a Stability Front ticket or a joint ticket of the United Front [of Principlists] and the Stability Front, does not exceed 60, at best.

As Hossein Ali Haji Daligani, an MP from Shahin Shahr and a member of the Principlists Caucus, has put it, the number of his fellow caucus members is 80 in total, the MPs from the Stability Front included. The latest attempts by the anti-government MPs led by the Stability Front to pick sides on the floor did not achieve the desired result in the impeachment hearing of Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhundi.

The MPs behind the impeachment motion could not collect more than 13 signatures to grill the minister; Akhundi obtained 175 votes in favor to survive a vote of no-confidence and remained in his post. As First Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar had accurately predicted Akhundi garnered 26 votes more than his first confirmation hearing [when President Rouhani introduced him as minister to parliament].

The roads minister’s survival amounted to a significant defeat for the anti-government hardliners in parliament. On the impeachment day the number of votes in favor of the impeachment stood at 72. This means that MPs from the Stability Front had even failed to rally all members of a parliamentary caucus they belong to around the impeachment motion, let alone winning the support of an additional 17 deputies and denying parliament the quorum it needs to impeach the minister.

Stability Front and a series of abortive obstructions

This is not the first time the Stability Front MPs threaten to use obstruction. Earlier (in March 2012), the Stability Front had threatened to obstruct during [former president] Ahmadinejad’s first questioning, but their threat did not become a reality back then.

But they made good on their threat nine months later when parliament’s Presiding Board announced the receipt of a second motion to question Ahmadinejad (on Sunday, November 4, 2012). In that session, two MPs from the Stability Front threatened the Presiding Board that they would walk out in protest. As a result of this threat, 21 MPs left the parliament.

What the deputies supporting Ahmadinejad and parliament’s minority caucus did – something Speaker Ali Larijani rejected as illegal – produced no fruit, because the chamber still maintained quorum and proceeded with the questioning.

It seems that the Stability Front’s two previous experiences [in obstruction] are repeating themselves. It is still unclear whether they have simply threatened to obstruct or they will carry out their threat. What is certain is the fact that their chances to drum up the support of over 97 MPs – to prevent parliament from maintaining quorum – are slim.