President Hassan Rouhani should apologize to the Iranian people if he cannot show that the economy has improved, one of Iran’s most prominent hardliners said on Tuesday, setting a battle line for a presidential election in May.

Rouhani is opposed by hardliners who resent the nuclear deal he struck with world powers including the United States which lifted economic sanctions and was supposed to boost the economy.

While hardliners, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have criticized Rouhani’s economic record in recent weeks, the president has sought to move the political discourse to other matters that might appeal to moderate voters.

In a speech to lawyers at the Iranian bar association later on Tuesday, he expressed, in unusually blunt terms, his hopes for better civil rights in Iran.

“We need to make people more aware of their rights than in the past,” Rouhani said, according to Fars News. “When an investigator asks about people’s private lives they should stand strong and say ‘this is my private area and you don’t have a right to ask me about my private life.’


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