Thursday, August 25, 2005

Depleted Iran Cabinet Starts Work After Shock Vote

Paul Hughes, Reuters:
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad convened his depleted team of ministers for their first meeting on Thursday after suffering the ignominy of seeing parliament reject four of his cabinet picks.

Wednesday's no confidence vote for Ahmadinejad's proposed oil, education, cooperatives and welfare ministers marked the first time since a constitutional reform in 1989 that parliament had not endorsed a president's first cabinet in its entirety. READ MORE

It left oil policy of OPEC's No. 2 crude exporter in limbo, served an important warning to the young, conservative president and could presage internal power struggles among Iran's conservative camp, which has swept reformists from all positions of power in the last three years, political analysts said.

"This was a real lesson to Ahmadinejad that he has to listen more. It's a setback for him," said one analyst, who declined to be named.

"It showed that, although parliament is mostly conservative, there are rifts developing and the moderate, more centrist camp seems to be getting stronger."

Ahmadinejad has three months to propose alternative nominees although analysts said he would probably do so much sooner.

"His next picks will have to be more experienced, more moderate figures," said the analyst, noting that lack of experience and a radical background were the most serious criticisms leveled by lawmakers.

Rejection of close Ahmadinejad ally Ali Saeedlou for the all-important Oil Ministry job left analysts wondering whether Ahmadinejad would now turn to an industry insider.


Favourites of foreign oil investors, such as National Petroleum Company head Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh or Deputy Oil Minister Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian could now come back into the reckoning, one analyst said.

But another political analyst said Ahmadinejad was more likely to turn to figures such as Kamal Daneshyar or Hossein Nejabat, conservatives on Iran's parliamentary energy commission who are critical of the Oil Ministry's current policies.

Reformist newspapers noted that the four vetoed ministers were among those considered to be closest to Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guardsmen who stormed to victory in June elections promising to tackle poverty and corruption.

"Parliament did not vote for Ahmadinejad's special friends," said the front-page headline of Mardomsalari daily.

The paper noted that Oil Ministry nominee Saeedlou and Welfare Ministry pick Mehdi Hashemi had served as deputies to Ahmadinejad when he was Tehran mayor until June 2005.

Education Ministry nominee Ali Akbar Ashari had been editor-in-chief of the Tehran municipality-owned Hamshahri newspaper and proposed Cooperatives Minister Ali Ahmadi was a contractor with close ties to the municipality, it said.

The parliament vote was almost even worse for Ahmadinejad, who took the 17 approved ministers to the northeastern city of Mashhad for their first cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Another close ally Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi received just one vote above the required simple majority to secure the Science and Technology Ministry post.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, whose background as former deputy intelligence minister aroused concern among many lawmakers, was just 10 votes on the safe side.