x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Iranian cabinet nominees called 'weak'

Legislators cheer a speech by a conservative representative slamming Ahmadinejad's choices as a debate on the president's proposed ministers begins in parliament.

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sits in front of a number of his cabinet nominees at a parliament session yesterday.
The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sits in front of a number of his cabinet nominees at a parliament session yesterday.

TEHRAN // President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will have to convince not only minority reformist legislators but also a considerable number of his fellow hardliners if he is to acquire the vote of confidence needed to form a cabinet. Less than one-quarter of the Iranian parliament's 290 representatives belong to the opposition reformist camp, but the majority hardline and conservative faction is divided over the president's proposed cabinet.

The parliament kicked off its debates on the cabinet nominees yesterday and is expected to complete the process of deciding on a vote of confidence for each proposed minister by Wednesday. The debate was broadcast live on state-run television and radio. Several leading conservative lawmakers who are critical of the president's policies were among those who spoke against the proposed cabinet line-up yesterday.

Ali Mottahari, a conservative representative from Tehran, called the proposed cabinet "weak" and criticised Mr Ahmadinejad for choosing ministers that conformed with his policies over others more qualified for the positions to maintain dominance over the foreign, interior, intelligence and oil ministries, among others. Mr Mottahari has recently called for the president to be tried for his part in the post-election unrest if defeated candidates and opposition leaders, including Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karrubi and Mohammad Khatami, a former president, are to be put on trial as demanded by Mr Ahmadinejad in a speech before the Friday prayer sermon in Tehran.

Referring to Mr Ahmadinejad's insistence on the need for ministers to conform with the president's policies, Mr Mottahari said that translated as obedience to the president's economic, cultural and political views. Mr Mottahari also alleged that Mr Ahmadinejad's cultural policies were influenced by his close ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, whose appointment to the position of first vice president was opposed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and many high-ranking clerics.

Legislators welcomed Mr Mottahari, interrupting his speech with cheers several times. In his speech against the cabinet arrangement, Ahmad Tavakkoli, a prominent conservative legislator who also heads the Parliament Research Centre, put greater stress on the president's economic policies, of which he has long been critical. Mr Tavakkoli said the make-up of Mr Ahmadinejad's economic team in his first term had been "inconsistent" and resulted in a revolving door of several ministers and economic officials.

He said such inconsistency would recur in the president's second term, given the members of the proposed cabinet. "One-third of the nominees will fail to acquire a vote of confidence from the parliament," Mr Tavakkoli told the Iranian Labour News Agency before the debates began. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the vice parliament speaker and a conservative, was also among those who spoke against the proposed cabinet appointments, He also criticised some of Mr Ahmadinejad's decisions in his first term, such as his decision to liquidate some of the country's high councils, including the Finance and Credit Council, the authority of which was then transferred to the government.

Both reformist and conservative lawmakers remarked on the inexperience of a number of the president's nominees in a variety of fields. These include the proposed minister of oil, a former commerce minister, Masoud Mirkazemi; the minister of energy, Mohammad Aliabadi, a former head of the Iran Sport Organisation; and the proposed minister of interior, a former defence minister, Mostafa Najjar. None has the experience for the position they are supposed to fill, critics claim.

According to one minority reformist legislator, Sadollah Nasiri, only 43 per cent of the ministers nominated by the president have an academic background related to their proposed ministries and only slightly more than half of them have experience in the field of the ministry they are expected to lead. Conservative supporters of the government, many of whom disagree with some of the president's choices of cabinet members - such as his nomination of female ministers for the ministries of education, health and social welfare - have urged parliament to offer a vote of confidence to the proposed cabinet so the government can get on with running the country.

"In the sensitive current circumstances helping the ship of the cabinet set off on its sail is of urgent expediency," Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the hardline, pro-Ahmadinejad Kayhan newspaper, wrote yesterday. "Despite being badly defeated the enemy is still conspiring ? trying to disrupt the onset of the government's work and to cause it to be weak, and consequently inefficient," Shariatmadari wrote.

To counter such conspiracies, Shariatmadari advised parliament not to make any concessions as to the general qualifications of the cabinet nominees, such as their piety, ethical and financial health, and their loyalty to Islam and the Islamic Revolution, but to trust the president in the matters of the nominees' qualifications for their proposed ministry positions. "In this case many of the proposed ministers will be able to attain a vote of confidence from the parliament," Shariatmadari wrote.

In his two-hour address to parliament before yesterday's debate, Mr Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his vows to fight corruption, fairly distribute wealth, implement economic reforms, offer protection to domestic producers and exporters and improve the state of the country's industries. He also vowed to continue the foreign policy he had adopted in his first term and to stand up to "bullying" powers. msinaiee@thenational.ae