Par­lia­ment grills em­bat­tled pres­i­dent on econ­omy, de­fi­ance of ay­a­tol­lah

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY ALI AK­BAR DAREINI

TEHRAN | Iran’s par­lia­ment grilled the pres­i­dent Wed­nes­day on a long list of ac­cu­sa­tions, in­clud­ing that he mis­man­aged the na­tion’s econ­omy and de­fied the au­thor­ity of the coun­try’s supreme leader.

Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad is the first pres­i­dent in Iran’s his­tory to be hauled be­fore the Ira­nian par­lia­ment, a se­ri­ous blow to his stand­ing in a con­flict pit­ting him against law­mak­ers and the coun­try’s pow­er­ful cler­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment.

Iran’s con­sti­tu­tion gives par­lia­ment the right to ques­tion the pres­i­dent, but the body had never be­fore taken a step that un­der­mined Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s pres­tige and could set the stage for his sub­se­quent im­peach­ment should law­mak­ers de­ter­mine his an­swers were un­sat­is­fac­tory.

Mr. Ah­madine­jad sniped back de­fi­antly at his ques­tion­ers, pro­vok­ing the wrath of the cham­ber with sar­casm. The dis­re­spect drew strong con­dem­na­tion from the law­mak­ers.

“If the par­lia­ment had sup­ported Ah­madine­jad be­fore to­day, it’s now lost,” law­maker Mo­ham­mad Taqi Rah­bar said.

Mr. Rah­bar, like many other con­ser­va­tives, sup­ported Mr. Ah­madine­jad be­fore April 2011, when the pres­i­dent pub­licly chal­lenged Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all mat­ters of state, about the ap­point­ment of the in­tel­li­gence chief.

This — com­bined with the pres­i­dent’s per­ceived re­luc­tance to heed ex­pert eco­nomic ad­vice — has con­vinced many hard-lin­ers that Mr. Ah­madine­jad wanted to ex­pand the pow­ers of the pres­i­dency that pre­vi­ously were sub­or­di­nate to cler­i­cal lead­ers.

Con­ser­va­tive law­maker Ali Motahari, a prom­i­nent op­po­nent of the pres­i­dent, asked 10 ques­tions of Mr. Ah­madine­jad in an open ses­sion of par­lia­ment broad­cast live on state ra­dio.

Some of the most hard-hit­ting fo­cused on Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s re­fusal for 11 days to im­ple­ment an or­der from Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei to re­in­state In­tel­li­gence Min­is­ter Hei­dar Moslehi, who had been sacked by the pres­i­dent in April.

Mr. Ah­madine­jad flatly de­nied that he chal­lenged Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei, an­swer­ing as though there had never been any show­down with the supreme leader.

The pres­i­dent, who ap­peared in par­lia­ment with eight se­nior Cab­i­net mem­bers, also was asked about a dra­matic in­crease in prices that has caused public dis­sat­is­fac­tion and about his fail­ure to pro­vide a bud­get to Tehran’s sub­way sys­tem.

He was ac­cused of speed­ing up im­ple­men­ta­tion of an aus­ter­ity plan to slash en­ergy and food sub­si­dies, rais­ing prices for the mid­dle class and the poor.

Mr. Ah­madine­jad claimed his gov­ern­ment has pro­vided more money to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties than pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments, and said price in­creases have noth­ing to do with slash­ing sub­si­dies.

Other bit­ing ques­tions were di­rected at Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s sup­port for his pro­tege and top aide, Es­fan­diar Rahim Mashaei, who hard-lin­ers ac­cuse of head­ing a “de­viant cur­rent” that sought to un­der­mine Is­lamic rule and com­pro­mise the sys­tem.

Some crit­ics have even claimed that Mr. Mashaei con­jured black magic spells to be­fud­dle Mr. Ah­madine­jad.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad an­swers ques­tions in an open ses­sion in par­lia­ment in Tehran on Wed­nes­day, the first pres­i­dent in the coun­try’s his­tory to be hauled be­fore the leg­is­la­ture, a se­ri­ous blow to his stand­ing in a con­flict pit­ting him against law­mak­ers.

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