NewsSpecial WireIran ultra-conservatives vying for new cabinet seats

Iran ultra-conservatives vying for new cabinet seats

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Iran Focus: Tehran, Iran, Jun. 27 – With more than a month to go before Iran’s newly-elected president has to announce his cabinet, political factions in the ultra-conservative camp are waging a tough battle to win over the key posts in the incoming administration. Senior ultra-conservative figures close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have already made it clear that cabinet nominations will not be for Ahmadinejad alone to make. Iran Focus

Tehran, Iran, Jun. 27 – With more than a month to go before Iran’s newly-elected president has to announce his cabinet, political factions in the ultra-conservative camp are waging a tough battle to win over the key posts in the incoming administration.

Senior ultra-conservative figures close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have already made it clear that cabinet nominations will not be for Ahmadinejad alone to make.

“In our country, nomination of cabinet ministers is rather complicated”, Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, Deputy Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, said. “The President has to consult with the Supreme Leader on the choice of ministers”.

Analysts believe the key positions in the new cabinet will go to well-known figures in the ultra-conservative faction.

“A senior official has told me that the list of ministers was prepared even before the elections”, Asghar Paymankhah, a political science lecturer in Tehran’s Open University, said. “All the same, people will be watching the key portfolios: oil, foreign affairs, intelligence [secret police”>, defense, interior and economy”.

“My guess is that the top slots will go to the Supreme Leader’s trusted lieutenants; men such as Ali Larijani and Ali-Akbar Velayati”, he said.

Larijani, a Revolutionary Guards general and Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative on the Supreme National Security Council, was one of the seven candidates in the presidential elections. Velayati, the former Foreign Minister, is chief adviser to the Supreme Leader.

But the ultra-conservative camp is an inhomogeneous mélange of individuals and groups united around the Supreme Leader. They include the Association of Islamic Trade Guilds, better known to Iranians as Motalefeh, which brings together powerful businessmen steeped in radical Islamic fundamentalist ideology; the Coordination Committee of Islamic Revolutionary Forces, headed by former Majlis Speaker Ali-Akbar Nategh Nouri; the Combatant Clergy Association, headed by the powerful Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani; and the Muslim Engineers Association led by Mohammad-Reza Bahonar.

“The jockeying has begun”, Ahmad Haj-Khosravi, a businessman with close ties to Motalefeh, said. “Everyone in the Leader’s camp is claiming that he played the decisive role in getting Ahmadinejad elected. I expect Mohammad Khoshchehreh and Tahmasb Mazaheri to get the top economic portfolios”.

Mazaheri was dismissed by Khatami as his Minister of Economy over policy differences, while Khoshchehreh, a member of the economic affairs committee in the ultra-conservative-dominated parliament, is a top ally of the new president.

Khoshchehreh has frightened the local business community by vowing to use the dreaded security forces to “clean up the financial markets”. He has argued vociferously against Iran joining the World Trade Organization.

Despite firm statements by Ahmadinejad prior to the election that his cabinet would “not have a seat for women”, the few women in the ultra-conservative camp were deeply involved in their own push for power.

“I don’t know if he will have women in his cabinet”, Eshrat Shayegh, a female member of parliament from Tabriz, told the news agency ILNA. “But he knows that I supported him at a time when no one believed he would win and when others were urging us to support them”.

Shayegh gained notoriety earlier when she told parliament that the way to cure the growing problem of prostitution in the country was “to execute one or two dozens of these women on the streets”.

“You will see a lot of fresh faces in the new cabinet”, Habib Roshanzamir, a retired journalist and analyst said. “The lion’s share will go to senior officers of the Revolutionary Guards and ultra-conservative politicians who played a critical role in making Ahmadinejad president”.

Some observers expect a major shakeup of the bureaucracy.

“This is the first time in 16 years that we are controlling all the levers of power”, the ultra-conservative Bahonar said. “There is going to be a sea-change in the administration of this country”.

The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), Iran’s notorious secret police, and the Ministry of Interior are expected to face major reshuffles.

“The ultra-conservatives are deeply unhappy with the current MOIS chief, Ali Younessi”, Ali Nikzad, a writer on Iranian affairs said in a telephone interview from his office in London. “They are also determined to change all the political appointees in the Interior Ministry from county governors upwards. Thousands of government officials are sure to be looking for jobs by the end of summer”.

Analysts say that while under Khatami’s presidency there were two parallel governments which were often at loggerheads, now there will be one government and one “command centre” in the office of the Supreme Leader.

“This is the most monolithic phase of the Islamic theocracy Iran has seen since Khomeini’s death”, Nikzad said. “The big question is, can they hold it together, and for how long?”

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