TEHRAN — Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, took to the airwaves twice Tuesday in attempts to quiet critics on all sides of the political spectrum who say he is not fulfilling his campaign promises nearly a year after his unexpected election.
The goal of Tuesday night’s live prime-time broadcast was to win back some of Rouhani’s public support, which has lagged recently as Iran’s economy continues to struggle under the weight of international sanctions over the country’s controversial nuclear programs.
“Either we had to continue the way we were going or make changes, and we decided to make changes,” Rouhani said, justifying reforms in state subsidy programs aimed at lowering government spending, which angered large segments of Iranians.
A state media campaign early in April that used national celebrities to ask people to voluntarily give up monthly cash grants was resoundingly unsuccessful, with 73 million, or 95 percent of Iran’s population, signing up to continue receiving payments.
That was followed by sharp increases in the price of gasoline, a move that will most likely result in short-term inflation and a rise in prices for consumer goods.
Despite the recent public outcry opposing Rouhani’s economic policies, the president remained unapologetic, insisting that his government’s decision to cut spending was necessary to avoid impending shortages.
“We know that energy use by the people of our country is twice as much as in most countries, and much more than that of many others,” Rouhani said, adding that had his government not made reforms to the subsidy system, Iran would face energy shortages including electricity blackouts this summer and a lack of heating fuel next winter.
Earlier on Tuesday, Rouhani spoke at the opening of Tehran’s annual book festival, addressing another area where he has faced recent criticisms, in remarks that were also carried live on state television.
In that speech, Rouhani reiterated his campaign promise to reduce restrictions on the media and protect freedom of expression, taking aim at hard-line opponents who accuse the president of sacrificing the ideals of Iran’s 1979 revolution and allowing Western values to creep into society.
“The people who produce culture do not need guidance or morality police, because they are the creators of thought and culture and they must guide and show the way for others, and they themselves know how to respect culture and religion,” Rouhani said, rejecting the notion espoused by conservative rivals that visual artists, filmmakers, writers and journalists need more intervention in an environment already known for heavy state censorship.