Iran: Politicians Skeptical Of President's Obscure Cabinet Choices
By Vahid Sepehri
legislature on 21 August began to debate the cabinet presented on 14 August by
the conservative President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. However, many politicians have
been unsure what to make of proposed ministers, mainly because the names are
unfamiliar. Fears have been voiced about the prospects of a government of
novices in senior positions, although a politically sympathetic parliament is
expected ultimately to vote in most, if not all, the nominees. The most
outspoken critics have been reformers who now have little influence over the
Bandar Abbas representative
Shahriar Moshiri said on 14 August that "certain [nominees] are entirely
unknown," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 August. Orumieh representative Muhammad
Abbaspur said the cabinet list is "like an unknown island," "Aftab-i Yazd"
reported on 15 August. Hussein Afarideh, a reformist legislator, told ISNA on 14
August that he could not say if the list was "good or bad," because "I do not
know who these people are."
Light On Experience
unfamiliarity with nominees has prompted concerns about their abilities.
Abbaspur said on 14 August that parliament expected that "more experienced and
familiar figures" would be presented. Muhammad Ali Muqnian, a member of the
parliamentary social affairs committee, told ISNA on 15 August that
"unfortunately, some of these people have insufficient experience," or "zero
kilometers" behind them "in terms of management" experience.
Shirzad, a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front told ILNA on
16 August that the nominees "have mostly worked in third- or fourth-ranking
administrative levels, and few have experience at the level of deputy minister,"
or ministry director-general, which is the level below deputy minister. "So
these people cannot take an overall view of [public] affairs," he said.
Former legislator Yadollah Eslami told the Fars news agency on 16 August
that there is nothing "promising" about people who wish to take over the
country's "overall management" when "most of them have not played a role at the
Shirzad said the proposed cabinet is mainly
characterized by the obscure reputation of its members and their military or
security backgrounds. Mohsen Armin, also of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin,
told ILNA on 16 August that this is no "working cabinet," but one designed "to
confront anticipated crises and tensions." He said the president has not
honored his promise to form a "cabinet
of 70 million" -- representative of all Iranians -- but has instead proposed a
government that belongs "to a radical and extremist group," with which even the
"right-wing faction is dissatisfied." This list is distinguished neither by
administrative experience nor the "academic knowledge" of its members. While
some have "doctorates," he said, these are "doctorates in strategic management,"
a qualification he said the armed forces give their officers during training,
and not of "equal credibility" to university doctorates.
He also believes that the military and security
affiliations of nominees are bad news for democracy. With five former soldiers
and five nominees formerly involved in state security work, the cabinet "has a
clear message," namely that public life "will move toward greater restriction
and closure," he said.
But Hamid Reza Taraqi of the conservative Islamic
Coalition Party has welcomed this "strategic government" with "young,
experienced, and efficient ministers," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 20 August. He
admitted some might not have experience relevant to their chosen ministries, but
those "people can make up for this lack of experience by picking efficient and
committed deputies," from state bodies. Ahmadinejad defended his choices as
capable and experienced when addressing parliament on 21 August, ISNA reported
Both sides agree this is a political, not technocratic
government. Conservatives tend to distrust technocratic types, preferring a
balance between expertise and "commitment" to revolutionary values and religion.
Technocrats may have deplorable affinities with the secular rulers toppled in
1979 and are considered likely to overlook the moral goals of the regime. As
legislator Said Bahlul-Husseini told ISNA on 20 August, Ahmadinejad has chosen
"piety and the spirit of service" over "experience complemented by oppressive
manners." Muhammad Nabi Habibi, the secretary-general of the IslamicCoalition
Party was satisfied on 14 August that the nominees are "fundamentalists,"
"Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. Taraqi describes them as "raised by the
traditional sector of the fundamentalists."
Ahmadinejad said on 15
August that his nominees have "convergent" (hamgara) views, so there would
presumably be a high degree of coordination in the cabinet, ISNA reported the
same day. He told parliament on 21 August that this convergence of ideas was the
decisive factor in his selections, ISNA reported. For example, he said his
intended economic team -- Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari; Commerce
Minister Masud Mirkazemi; and Farhad Rahbar, the head of the state planning and
budgeting body -- had similar ideas on economic policies he favors. These
include decentralization and greater administrative authority for provinces,
fairer distribution of resources among provinces, supporting domestic
manufacturing, and using "stagnant" money deposits to boost economic activity,
Parliamentarians may not agree. Tehran representative
Muhammad Khoshchehreh said the proposed cabinet is not "cohesive or efficient,"
and the economy minister has different views to those of the current central
bank governor, Ibrahim Sheibani, who may retain his post, ISNA reported on 21
August. Lawmaker Kamal Daneshyar said the same day that at a 20 August meeting
of conservative parliamentarians, one person approved the cabinet list and 10
spoke against it, including legislator Emad Afruq, whom he said was a "general"
among fundamentalists and a barometer of their mood, ISNA reported. But
parliament's vote is unpredictable, he said. Khoshchehreh cautioned that
parliament is in a "political" mood, and may reject or approve "by the
kilo-load," ISNA reported on 21 August.
Parliament is to examine the
list this week.
Conservatives face a
dilemma: now that they control all institutions and power levers, they must
accept responsibility for any failures. Unlike their reformist predecessors,
they will not so easily claim they were obstructed at every turn by a hostile
parliament, unelected state bodies, or unspecified agents provocateurs "every
nine days," as former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami used to say --
although they still have a favorite scapegoat, foreign powers. Parliament has
its particular dilemma: it might have to take a share of the blame for any
failures if it votes in the entire cabinet. Conservative politician Reza Zavarei
told ILNA on 15 August that it would be a "betrayal of the people and the
system" to approve "weak" ministers. But the legislature can also be chided for
being too picky: critics will say it would not let the president work with his
Failure to deliver the goods promised during the
presidential campaign might discredit the conservatives collectively because
while Iranians accepted that reformers had limited power, they see the
conservatives as unconstrained. And the conservatives claim to represent the
system essentially, indeed religion itself. So their failure may provoke a wider
crisis of credibility.
That may be why some reformers, seemingly with
little faith in the abilities of this government, consider this a pre-crisis
cabinet. Why the inclusion of former security officials, Mohammad Salamati of
the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin wondered. "This type of cabinet would more
likely be formed in critical than in ordinary conditions," ILNA quoted him as
saying on 17 August. Mohsen Armin said those who picked the cabinet "expect the
country to face a crisis in the future," ILNA reported on 17 August. A crisis
cabinet "would be no different" to one that he says belies the president's
promise of a "working government."