Sunday, August 21, 2005

Iran's President Faces Tough Questioning Over Cabinet Picks

Nazila Fathi, The New York Times:
Iran's new conservative president faced his first challenge today in Parliament when skeptical lawmakers put him on the defensive about his recommendations for 21 cabinet ministers.

Although Parliament is dominated by conservatives who supported President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the recent campaign, many members criticized his proposals, in a scene that called into question the unity of Iran's conservatives now that they fully dominate the government. Specifically, the lawmakers called his cabinet candidates too inexperienced to handle their jobs and said he had failed to present a clear policy agenda.

Most of the 21 candidates Mr. Ahmadinejad introduced today were unknown even to Parliament members, who must support the candidates in a vote of confidence before they take office. The candidates included ultra-conservative figures who were put forward for sensitive positions in Intelligence, Culture and Interior Ministries. The rest of his choices were mostly young, technocrat politicians.

Speaking to Parliament today, Mr. Ahmadinejad repeated his pledges to root out corruption, create jobs and distribute the country's income more fairly. "People have voted for a government that would serve them," he said in a speech broadcast live on state radio. "They want those in charge who would sympathize with them and understand their needs, those who can be trusted and bravely defend their interests."

But lawmakers openly showed their skepticism, directly questioning his agenda and candidate choices.

"Can't we use people who have past experience in the ministries they have been suggested for?" asked Emad Forough, a conservative Parliament member who had supported Mr. Ahmadinejad before his election.

"It seems that your plan is full of beautiful words," he said. "They are more like ideals than policies. One cannot call certain goals and ideals as an agenda."

One candidate who has drawn the most criticism is Ali Saidloo, who was put forward to run the Oil Ministry and who worked with Mr. Ahmadinejad when he was mayor of Tehran. His critics say he has no experience in the field and is not capable of handling such a sensitive position.

Mr. Ahmadinejad defended Mr. Saidloo, saying he has a degree in geology and was familiar with oil exploration. READ MORE

Some members of Parliament said before the debate began that as many as three candidates may not be approved. But Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on state matters, backed Mr. Ahmadinejad during Friday sermons on Friday.

"I support Mr. Ahmadinejad and his government," he said, "and I hope the president and Parliament will complete their legal duty with cooperation and understanding so that the new administration is in place as soon possible."