TEHRAN - The Iranian parliament overwhelmingly rejected President Hassan Rouhani’s pick for science minister on Tuesday - the third time they have done so in little more than a year.
The rebuff underscores the pressure that Rouhani , a moderate elected in June 2013, faces from a parliament dominated by conservatives at odds with his desire to open up the country to the West.
The post of Minister of Science , Research and Technology is sensitive because it involves oversight of Iran’s universities and students, whose political activities are heavily monitored by the regime. Fakhroddin Ahmadi Danesh-Ashtiani, whose candidacy Rouhani spoke up for in the chamber, received only 70 votes from the 257 lawmakers present - 171 voted against him and 16 abstained.
Danesh-Ashtiani, a civil engineer by training, was a vice minister for education under Iran’s last reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, who was in power between 1997 and 2005.
On Tuesday, lawmakers aired a video of Danesh-Ashtiani in 2009, in which he was shown to call for the closure of universities in protest at the controversial re-election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A previous science minister candidate of Rouhani’s was rejected in October by parliament, which two months earlier had sacked the last minister , Reza Faraji Dana, who was deemed too close to reformists.
Lawmakers criticised Faraji Dana - who was Rouhani’s second choice - for appointing too many officials with links to the so-called “seditionist” movement that took to the streets in protest after Ahmadinejad’s re-election.
The challenge was crushed by the regime but dozens of people died and thousands, many of them students, were arrested.