Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Iran's Majles Confirms All Three of Ahmadinejad’s Ministerial Candidates

Farideh Farhi

What a strange pandemonium the confirmation hearings for Ahmadinejad’s three proposed candidates for the ministries of interior, economy and finance, and transportation turned out to be. Despite vociferous opposition to two of the candidates, all three were finally confirmed in a session publicly described by one deputy as “Isfahan’s Monday Bazaar” for its lack of order. Left unanswered are questions about what happened, Larijani’s leadership capabilities in maintaining some sort of Majles decorum, and whether the results were influenced by the public announcemnt of Ayatollah’s Khamenei’s preferences.

Majles rejection of ministerial candidates is not unheard of in the Iran. In fact, four of Ahmadinejad’s initial ministers were rejected when he first became president. But it is the combination of public charges made and the eventual confirmation that makes this Majles fracas unusual.

The day began with literally no one speaking in opposition to the proposed candidate for the Ministry of Economy and Finance(217 out 271 eventually supported his candidacy), which is strange given the controversy that surrounds Ahmadinejad’s Economic Transformation Plan. But the candidate’s promise to not rattle the foreign exchange market by increasing the value of Iranian Rial, as was proposed by the previous ministerial candidate, may have calmed some nerves. Majles deputies may have also resigned themselves to the fact that less than a year prior to a presidential election is no time to make a fuss over economic policies that they have very little impact on anyway.

But the debates, which as all Majles proceedings were aired live on the Iranian radio, turned patently bizarre with the discussion over the candidate for the Interior Ministry, Ali Kordan. First the attempt by several conservative deputies to close the session, so that opposition to his candidacy could be voiced frankly, was rejected by Majles Speaker Larijani who was then angrily accused by well-known conservative deputies, such as Ahmad Tavakoli and Elias Naderan, of going against the rules and making decisions on his own.

Then several other conservative deputies held little back and effectively accused Kordan of being a charlatan; that is, someone who has lied about his honorary doctorate degree from Oxford (he has none), received salary from the government on the basis of that degree, and taught law at the university level with a mere associate degree. One conservative deputy and long-standing Ahmadinejad supporter even went so far as to suggest that Kordan “believes that our system is a leader-based system and does not believe in elections,” a serious accusation against a person who is expected to head the ministry in charge of conducting elections. Another conservative deputy identified Kordan as extremely political and partisan: “even if we consider him to be a principlist, he is partial toward a specific group and this is not right for the country.” He went on to say, “I do not say he is corrupt but he may have made mistakes.”

Despite the public airing of all this dirty laundry by very conservative deputies, Kordan, who was previously Larijani’s deputy at Iran’s radio and television broadcasting, was approved by a vote of 169 out of 271 present. It is really hard for me to explain what happened. If the vote was the result of a pre-arranged compromise between Larijani and Ahmadinejad, after the latter’s previous candidates were deemed unable to get through Majles, then why allow the public airing of such damning charges?

Now, it is possible that some deputies thought that it is counter-productive to keep a government without effective ministers for too long and voted on that basis. Perhaps others, as suggested by a couple of conservative websites, were moved by Ahmadinejad’s words relaying Ayatollah Khamenei’s support for Kordan. Still the lack of synchrony between the charges aired and the final vote is bound to cast a pall on Larijani who proved quite inept in controlling his own conservative flank and Ayatollah Khamenei who seemed unable to stay above the fray and was once again dragged into a partisan fight solidly, at least in appearance, on the side of Ahmadinejad, in this case for a minister with serious questions about his honesty.

The only winner, not surprisingly, may be Ahmadinejad. I cannot really remember a public official in Iran ever quoting the leader in support of a candidate as bluntly as Ahmadinejad did in today’s session. There are of course always rumors about who Khamenei supports but the direct reference to his support led at least one member of the parliament to say that he was moved to give support because of what Ahmadienjad said.

At this point, whether Ahmadinejad had the support of Ayatollah Khamenei or not may be irrelevant. His blunt approach is actually quite brilliant politically and will be of great use to him as he runs for his second term as president in June 2008. It is convincing others that he has Khamenei’s support, if not he would not speak in such direct terms.

Whether Ayatollah Khamenei will remain silent on this blatant use of his name for political purposes is yet to be seen. But the editorial by hard-line Hossein Shariatmadari of Kayhan suggests that Ahmadinejad's move did not go unnoticed and even some of his avid supporters have been taken aback. In his editorial, Shariatmadari, based on "reliable and detailed information," accuses Ahmadinejad of distorting Khamenei's words of not objecting to the nominations and turning it into a statement of support. More importantly, he chastizes him for using the leader for political purposes. This verbal distortion, Shariatmadari suggests, questions the legality of the vote taken and necessitates a re-vote!

It could be that Ahmadinejad just went one step too far but unless a re-vote is actually in the cards, one has to give this round to Ahmadinejad, yet again.

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Dear Professor Farhi,

Could you please remove all these nonsensical "Comments" by the anonymous "contributors"? Unless these are removed, one is not inclined to take the trouble and place one's serious Comment on this page. Perhaps you should consider to adopt the policy of publishing Comments on your articles after having reviewed them. Thank you in advance for the trouble.

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