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Can Majles block Ahmadinejad's advance?

31 Aug 2009 10:21No Comments


He doesn't want to hear it. Archive photo.
Reporting from Tehran | 31 Aug 2009

Heads must have turned yesterday morning as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad entered Iran's Majles accompanied by a phalanx of personal security guards and minders.

It was an unprecedented move and surely not accidental, given how well accustomed the president is to image-making and sending out public signals.

For only his second visit to Iran's "House of the People" since his inauguration, President Ahmadinejad chose once again to project an aura of independence, invincibility and imperviousness to criticism or, for that matter, advice.

Two weeks ago, the president made his first appearance at a meeting of conservative representatives which he had called, ostensibly, to hear their ever-growing concerns about the line-up of his new cabinet. Some news reports placed the count of how many attended this precipitous event at just 80 MPs -- less than half of the conservative majority faction in Iran's parliament. It was too little too late for MPs already chafing from the president's failure to involve them in the selection process.

At the meeting, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, proposed a joint committee formed by members of parliament and the government to discuss ministerial appointments. It amounted to an offer of peace negotiations to avert the outbreak of open war, but the President nonchalantly chose the latter. "If you want to suggest who I appoint for my cabinet," he told the gathered MPs, "send me a list."

This meeting came in the wake of a mass cabinet walk out in which up to ten ministers protested the appointment of close personal aide Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei as Vice-President. This was closely followed by a knee-jerk mass dismissal of a number of those ministers -- all but one later retracted by the president, but only after it became clear that with so many changes all at once, his government would have had to face a parliamentary confidence vote.

Ahmadinejad had more surprises in store the following week. Without any word to parliament, he appeared in a live television interview in which he announced six of his ministerial nominations directly to the nation. In another live television appearance later in the week, Ahmadinejad would answer opponents who had called for their own opportunity on national television to offer their criticisms.

"The people come out to vote and the result is the choice of one person, his plans and vision are the choice of the whole nation," Ahmadinejad told an interviewer who was so sycophantic that on several occasions he actually finished the president's sentences for him.

"Why do they expect that since the president speaks to the people, a single representative should have the same opportunity?" The president asked, rhetorically.

By this time, Ahmadinejad had finally submitted his list to the Majles, on a day in which parliamentarians were kept on tenterhooks until the very last moments of the constitutionally appointed time. MPs were left wondering what final wranglings were going on behind the scenes at the Presidential Office to create such a hold up.

The list was finally submitted late in the evening, long after the end of parliamentary working hours. It was not lost on MPs that the official list they had waited so patiently to see, was identical to a list leaked to the press the previous day.

MPs who remain from Iran's seventh parliament will remember that in 2005, the former Ardebil governor and Tehran mayor -- at that time new to national politics -- was more willing than he has been this year to consult representatives over who to choose for his cabinet.

During the course of his first term, the president grew in confidence and passed up no opportunity to replace ministers who he deemed not to be meeting his standards. In retrospect, one can see a trend in his ministerial changes that has only grown more pronounced in the controversies surrounding his cabinet since his reelection this year.

The government economic team saw the most changes of all sections of the cabinet. Famously, Davoud Danesh-Jafari resigned after bitter arguments over what the former minister called Ahmadinejad's unwillingness to accept "basic economic principles." Over the following months, the president would go on to replace the ministers for Oil, Roads and Transportation, Welfare, Cooperatives and Industries and Mines -- the ministry which handles the second largest financial revenues of any ministry in the government.

A closer look at Ahmadinejad's choice in 2007 for this last ministry is revealing regarding the president's long-term intentions. Within weeks of replacing Ali-Reza Tahmasbi as Minister of Industries and Mines, Ali-Akbar Mehrabian, made no less than six changes to senior ministerial staff and has further alarmed MPs by continuing to replace managers at a steady rate. Mehrabian has also presided over changes at the top of a number of large government-owned industrial firms such as motor vehicle manufacturing giant Iran Khodro. He has also overseen the knock-down sale of Iran's government-owned tractor-producing industry to holding companies owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Mehrabian's status as a "special presidential advisor" underlined his importance in the 9th cabinet and made him a sure thing for Ahmadinejad's list of nominations for the 10th.

Mehrabian is just one example of the way Ahmadinejad will draw linkages between Iran's economy, ideological and security establishments. Heydar Moslehi -- another presidential adviser with links to the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards -- will give the adninistration political control over the Intelligence Ministry. Mostafa-Mohammad Najjar, currently Defense Minister, and a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, will link Iran's ideological military-economic complex with internal security as Interior Minister. Ali Nikzad, a loyalist from Ahmadinejad's years as Ardebil governor, will preside over Iran's bloated real estate market as Housing Minister. Critically, Masoud Mikazemi, though lacking experience or specialist knowledge, is Ahmadinejad's choice for Oil Minister -- perhaps because of his background as Head of the Revolutionary Guards Center for Strategic Studies.

The president's entry into parliament yesterday, flanked by security guards will be interpreted by many representatives as a signal that the administration considers parliament to be no more than an obstacle on the way to achieving its broader objectives, and an obstacle it may yet prove to be.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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