x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Flippant Ahmadinejad mocks Iran parliament grilling

Hauled before a largely hostile parliament for questions on his economic and political management, the Iran president gave few direct answers and, to their fury, made light of the proceedings.

It was a remarkably flippant and defiant performance by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hauled before a largely hostile parliament yesterday for an unprecedented grilling on his economic and political management, he mocked his interrogators, gave few direct answers and, to their fury, made light of the proceedings.

"It was not a very difficult quiz," he scoffed. "If you had consulted us, better questions could have been drawn up."

One parliamentarian, Mohammad Reza Khabbaz, shot back angrily: "Here is not a place to share jokes. This is the parliament. The president has no right to insult the legislature."

It was the first time a president was summoned before parliament since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

The proceedings were broadcast live on state radio.

By refusing to take yesterday's proceedings seriously, Mr Ahmadinejad is tempting impeachment.

He was weakened by parliamentary elections this month, which bolstered his hardline critics.

But he seems confident Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will permit him to serve out the remainder of his term until next year.

Any attempt to remove him before then could cause more instability when the regime is trying to foster the impression of unity as it faces unprecedented Western pressure over its nuclear programme.

But Mr Ahmadinejad pushed his luck to the limit yesterday.

His hardline rivals dominate the 290-seat parliament and had clearly hoped the session would chasten and even humiliate him. Combative as ever, he gave them no satisfaction.

A key line of questioning was over his challenge to the absolute authority of Ayatollah Khamenei last year when the cleric overruled the president's attempts to sack the intelligence minister. Mr Ahmadinejad sulked at home for 11 days before relenting.

The president, a reputed workaholic who sleeps for just four hours a night, shrugged off that spat yesterday, joking that he had stayed at home because "some of my friends have repeatedly told me to rest".

He was also asked about his perceived failures to enact legislation, tackle unemployment, and combat rising fuel and food prices.

Many lawmakers condemned the president's performance, saying he had insulted the elected parliament.

"He didn't respect the house," said parliamentarian, Ghodratollah Ali Khani. "Hopefully, the next step is Ahmadinejad's impeachment."

mtheodoulou@thenational.ae