AP: Lawmakers criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nominees for his new government as inexperienced cronies and threatened on Thursday to reject some of them, setting the stage for a new fight between the hard-line leader and rivals with his conservative camp.
The Associated Press
By NASSER KARIMI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Lawmakers criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nominees for his new government as inexperienced cronies and threatened on Thursday to reject some of them, setting the stage for a new fight between the hard-line leader and rivals with his conservative camp.
Ahmadinejad is forming his new government while still under a cloud from claims by the pro-reform opposition that his victory in June elections was fraudulent. But he is also under pressure from fellow conservatives, who have long criticized the president for hoarding power by putting close associates in key posts.
The president submitted his 18 Cabinet nominees late Wednesday to parliament, which must approve the list. Most of the nominees were close Ahmadinejad loyalists or little-known figures, while public critics of the president from his previous cabinet were purged. At least three nominees — the interior, intelligence and oil minister — had ties with the elite Revolutionary Guard, a powerful base of support for the president.
Swift criticism came from parliament speaker Ali Larijani, the most prominent conservative rival of Ahmadinejad, who suggested the nominees lacked experience and political weight.
"Ministers must have enough experience and expertise, otherwise a huge amount of the country's stamina will waste," Larijani said, according to state radio. "A ministry is not a place for tryouts."
Ahmadinejad struck back later Thursday, saying some lawmakers seemed to have an inflated sense of their own importance.
"Some talk on behalf of parliament, while all lawmakers are equal," Ahmadinejad said during a live question and answer session on state TV, without naming specific legislators.
Larijani appeared to focus on the nominee for intelligence minister — Heidar Moslehi — as too inexperienced. "A security official should have a vision" and know how to deal with both security and political issues, Larijani said.
Ahmadinejad, a firebrand populist politician, clashed frequently with conservatives during his first five-year term. His critics complained that he was mishandling the economy and trying to control the levers of power without working with other factions.
However, Ahmadinejad sought to project a more conciliatory note Thursday, saying he would not propose Cabinet nominees "who would be in conflict with parliament."
But the confrontation with conservatives could intensify during his second term. He not only faces opponents in parliament, but also Larijani's brother — Sadeq Larijani — has taken over head of the powerful judiciary, reducing the president's influence there.
At the same time, the pro-reform movement calls Ahmadinejad's government illegitimate and is pressing claims that detainees were abused and tortured in the fierce crackdown that followed the disputed election — allegations that have embarrassed Ahmadinejad's administration and the clerical leadership.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has strongly backed Ahmadinejad in the election dispute. But at the same time, he has shown impatience with the president in the inter-conservative wrangling. His appointment of Sadeq Larijani as judiciary chief suggests he wants to keep conservatives happy and balance them with Ahmadinejad.
Parliament, which is dominated by conservatives, is due to vote on each of the Cabinet nominees on Aug. 30. One of the deputy speakers, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, predicted that four of five of the nominees would be rejected.
He specified the close Ahmadinejad allies named as health, energy and labor ministers, saying they were not as "efficient" as the outgoing ministers. For the health ministry, Ahmadinejad has nominated Marzieh Vadi Dastgerdi, one three women he has named — who if approved would be the Islamic Republic's first female ministers.
Ahmadinejad also appeared to have purged conservative critics. Gone from the list were four members of the outgoing government — the intelligence, culture, health and labor ministers — who criticized him earlier this month over his attempt to name a close associate, Esfandiar Mashai, as his top vice president.
Mashai was sharply opposed by conservatives because of past comments friendly to Israel. Khamanei sided with conservatives and forced Mashai's removal.
Ahmadinejad said "harmony" among the Cabinet members and himself was a key criteria in his decision making.
"The candidates should accept each other, they should accept the president, and the president should accept them too," he said.
A number of names could be the focus of a parliament fight. The nominee for intelligence minister — Moslehi, a close Ahmadinejad loyalist — could face resentment because Ahmadinejad fired his predecessor, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, over the vice presidency debacle, enraging many conservatives.
Ahmadinejad criticized Ejehi on Thursday, saying "if he would have carried out his tasks properly, we would not have these problems on the streets" after the election.
Tension could also rise over Ali Akbar Mehrabian, whom Ahmadinejad is seeking to maintain as industry minister. Mehrabian has been convicted of fraud in an intellectual property rights case — fueling complaints among conservatives that the president rewards loyalty over competence.
For the key oil minister post, Ahmadinejad named the commerce minister from his outgoing government, Masoud Mir Kazemi, a former commander in the elite Revolutionary Guard with no experience in the oil sector. Iran is the second largest producer in OPEC and 80 percent of its foreign revenues come from oil exports.
Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, who is close to the elite Revolutionary Guard, has been nominated as the new interior minister, in charge of police. The move could signal an even tougher domestic security stance amid the crackdown on the opposition following the disputed election. The opposition says at least 69 people have been killed in the fierce crackdown by police, the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia.
Six of the nominees are holdovers from Ahmadinejad's previous government, though two of them are being moved to new ministries. Among them is Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who will retain his post. Other nominees were little known figures.