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Iran parliament to reject Ahmadinejad ministers - MPs

Saturday 22 August 2009


By Fredrik Dahl and Hossein Jaseb

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will face a tough battle to win parliament’s approval for his new cabinet after lawmakers signalled they were likely to reject several proposed ministers.

"Those nominated by the president for government posts must have sufficient expertise and experience, otherwise a great deal of the country’s energy would be wasted," state broadcaster IRIB quoted parliament speaker Ali Larijani as saying on Thursday.

Vice speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a pragmatic conservative who has been critical of the hardline president in the past, suggested up to five members of Ahmadinejad’s 21-strong cabinet risked being voted down by parliament. He did not give names.

The outcome will be a test of how secure Ahmadinejad’s grip is on power in the major oil exporter after his disputed re-election in June led to the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and exposed divisions within the ruling elite. At least 26 people were killed in street protests.

The nominated ministers include Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi as the new oil minister, a key position as crude sales account for most state revenue. Mirkazemi is seen as an Ahmadinejad ally but has little known oil industry experience.

The president failed to get his first three choices for oil minister appointed in 2005 because of parliament opposition.

Several nominees — Mirkazemi and the intelligence and interior ministers — have a background with the elite Revolutionary Guards, as does Ahmadinejad. Seen as fiercely loyal to the Islamic Republic’s values, the force’s influence appears to have grown since he came to power four years ago.

London-based analyst Gala Riani, of IHS Global Insight, said Ahmadinejad had put forward a cabinet that "largely consists of loyalists with a security background" and that his legitimacy would be damaged if some of them were refused by parliament.

The legislature is dominated by conservatives, but some of Ahmadinejad’s supporters have abandoned him after the election, even though he enjoys the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority. Moderates see Ahmadinejad’s government as illegitimate.

Lawmakers had urged him not to nominate inexperienced ministers. The president had previously announced he would make major changes from his first-term cabinet and state Press TV said the new line-up included 11 "new faces."

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If a nominee is rejected, Ahmadinejad must put forward another candidate. The Kayhan newspaper quoted a parliamentary spokesman as saying voting would start on Aug 30.

Conservative MP Javad Karimi Qodousi, predicted 80 percent of the ministers would be approved, Fars News Agency said.

Among the candidates, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki would retain his job and three women would become ministers for health, social welfare and education. It would be the first time a woman has become a minister in the Islamic Republic.

State media said Ahmadinejad would deliver a televised speech after 1630 GMT, postponed from Wednesday, to introduce his cabinet and talk about its goals.

Analysts expect parliament to eventually approve a cabinet, but a stormy process could deal a political blow to Ahmadinejad.

The new oil minister faces the challenge of boosting oil and gas output under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, imposed because of a dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme. The West suspects Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its programme is for peaceful power generation.

Ahmadinejad was re-elected for a second four-year term in the June 12 vote. Reformist candidates say the poll was rigged.

The election and its turbulent aftermath has further strained relations with the West. U.S. President Barack Obama’s offer of engagement with Iran if it "unclenched its fist" ran into trouble after Tehran accused the United States and other Western nations of inciting the opposition protests.

Washington has given Iran until September to take up a six-power offer of talks on trade benefits if it shelves nuclear enrichment, or face harsher sanctions.

Ahmadinejad shrugged off the prospect of possible measures targeting Iran’s gasoline imports and suggested it would soon be able to meet its own needs, Iranian media reported.

In another statement highlighting defiance towards the West, air force Brigadier General Hassan Shahsafi said Iran would "one day expel the enemy from the Middle East," the official IRNA news agency reported.

One MP, Ali Karimi Firouzjani, hailed the nomination of women ministers as "a new chapter in our revolution."

But campaigner Sussan Tahmasebi told Reuters: "From the history of at least two of the three women nominees they are not advocates for women’s rights."

(Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

 

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