TEHRAN // After five days of heated debate, Iran's conservative parliament yesterday approved 18 ministers nominated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while rejecting three others, including two of the three women proposed for ministerial positions for the first time in the 30-year history of the Islamic Republic. In 2005 the parliament rejected five of the ministers Mr Ahmadinejad proposed.
He will have three months to propose new candidates for the three positions that remain open. According to a report by Ayandeh news portal, politicians' decisions on individual ministers were strongly influenced by unofficial news of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's wish that all male nominees be approved. In the case of female nominees, Ayatollah Khamenei had advised Mr Ahmadinejad before the voting to convince the religious authorities who had opposed them, the news portal quoted an unnamed MP as saying. The conservative news portal said five to 10 nominees had been expected to be rejected by the parliament if there had not been advice from Ayatollah Khamenei.
General Ahmad Vahidi, the controversial choice for defence minister, received 227 votes in his favour, with 54 politicians voting against and five abstaining. Gen Vahidi, who served as the deputy defence minister in Mr Ahmadinejad's cabinet during his first term, is a former commander of the Qods Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards responsible for operations outside Iran. Israel and Argentina accuse Gen Vahidi of masterminding the 1994 car bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires by a Hizbollah member that killed 85 people.
Interpol has distributed a warrant for his arrest although Iran has consistently denied any involvement in the attack. During the debates, Hadi Qavami, the only representative who signed up to speak against Gen Vahidi's appointment, cancelled his speech "to show the total support of the Iranian parliament for Mr Vahidi against the impudence of the Zionists". Other MPs, including some from the minority reformist faction such as Ali Asghar Yousefnejad, said they would vote for Gen Vahidi to demonstrate their defiance of the Israeli and Argentine allegations against him.
Of the three women nominated to the cabinet by Mr Ahmadinejad, only Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi was approved, gaining 175 of the 286 votes to become the minister of health. Dr Dastjerdi is a 50-year-old gynaecologist and former conservative MP. In a passionate speech given to the parliament during the debates, Dr Dastjerdi said she wasn't "useless" as they thought and offered a detailed platform for the ministry.
Sousan Keshavarz, who had been nominated to lead the education ministry, received only 49 votes in her favour while Fatemeh Ajorlou, a politician herself and Mr Ahmadinejad's choice for the ministry of welfare, gathered 76 yes votes. More than two-thirds of the representatives of the Iranian parliament are considered hardliners and conservatives. Women's appointments to ministerial positions by Mr Ahmadinejad were also met with strong opposition from some traditionalist and conservative high-ranking clerics such as Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi.
"The opposition of religious authorities is based on Quranic evidence and the ways of the Prophet and his household," the pro-Ahmadinejad hardline Raja News news portal wrote when the three women were nominated by Mr Ahmadinejad and demanded that the president abide by the wishes of the religious authorities. Politicians also failed to approve Mohammad Aliabadi, who had been nominated to take the helm of the ministry of energy.
Mr Aliabadi was strongly criticised by some MPs for a lack of related education and experience in the field and for his poor performance as head of the country's sports organisation in Mr Ahmadinejad's first term. The former minister of commerce Masoud Mirkazemi, who was proposed to lead the oil ministry in the new cabinet, passed the parliament but with only three more votes than required. Critics said he lacked an overall plan for the ministry that is considered the backbone of the Iranian economy and had no plans to counteract the threats of any potential petrol embargo by the western powers.
Mr Ahmadinejad, who addressed the parliament for a second time just before the voting took place yesterday morning, asked the politicians to be lenient if any one of the nominees seemed not to be strongly qualified and to give their vote of confidence to all 21 "in order to slap the enemy hard in the mouth". firstname.lastname@example.org