WASHINGTON, November 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's executive branch is undergoing a major shakeup in what could be an effort by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration to realign its economic policy. The president has replaced two cabinet ministers, others are facing parliamentary scrutiny, and a score of top officials have quit. But the tremors could also reflect officials' dissatisfaction with policy or presidential frustration over unmet goals.
Iranian lawmakers gave a vote of confidence to Ahmadinejad's choice to be the new cooperatives minister on November 5. Mohammad Abbasi, a legislator from Gorgan, is a former university chancellor (of a branch of the Islamic Azad University) and deputy governor-general for planning affairs in the northern Mazandaran Province. He holds a doctorate in strategic management, a degree often given to military personnel.
Abbasi told reporters that strengthening the cooperative-run business sector is an important step in the realization of the country's fifth five-year plan, which began in 2005.
Abbasi succeeds Mohammad Nazemi-Ardakani, who, the president said, will serve in another position. Nazemi-Ardakani was given the portfolio when the president's initial nominee failed to win approval. Nepotism may have a part in Nazemi-Ardakani's job security. He is related by marriage to Masud Zaribafan, secretary of the presidential cabinet and a Tehran municipal council member.
Another Minister Replaced
The same day that Abbasi was introduced to the legislature, October 29, lawmakers approved Abdul Reza Mesri as the new minister of welfare and social security. A parliamentary representative from the western Kermanshah Province, Mesri succeeded Parviz Kazemi.
Ahmadinejad's first nominee for the Welfare Ministry portfolio failed to win approval when he came to power in 2005, and lawmakers criticized Kazemi's inexperience during the parliamentary debate around his appointment. Kazemi had reportedly suggested in his curriculum vitae that he was "reluctant" to discuss his accomplishments, "Mardom Salari" reported on November 5, 2005.
An anonymous ministry official reportedly said when Kazemi resigned on September 25 that he was being replaced because he allowed subordinates to simultaneously hold leadership positions in businesses, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA). The source claimed Kazemi hired incompetents and the ministry did not report on its activities satisfactorily.
There also were reports that Kazemi's resignation was connected with his failure to exercise sufficient control over the Social Security Organization. Indeed, that organization's chief, Davud Madadi, resigned some two weeks after Kazemi did. He blamed "present circumstances," and said "it is not possible for me to cooperate with the government," IRNA reported on October 8.
Disgruntled Economic Team
At the top tier of government, the appointments of Cooperatives Minister Abbasi and Welfare and Social Security Minister Mesri are only the most conspicuous changes.
Aftab news agency quoted an anonymous source on September 26 as saying the president has reviewed the one-year performance of each cabinet member. The source claimed Ahmadinejad has warned Roads and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati and Commerce Minister Parviz Mir-Kazemi that they are in danger of being replaced. Aftab reported that the ministers facing dismissal have reformist tendencies or have failed to fulfill their promises to the president.
Other personnel changes have taken place below the cabinet level. About 20 mid-level officials, including deputy ministers, have either been forced to resign or have been dismissed, "Ayandeh-yi No" reported on October 17. These changes mostly affect the economy.
In the Management and Planning Organization, three deputy chiefs quit in mid-October -- Deputy Chief of Production Affairs Farhad Dezhpasand, Deputy Chief of Economic Affairs Ali Tayebnia, and Deputy Chief for Fundamental Affairs Mehdi Rahmati. Two other managers -- identified as Yarmand and Daryani -- were dismissed. There were other personnel changes within the Economy and Finance Ministry, the Petroleum Ministry, the Commerce Ministry, and at the central bank.
The president is not the only one who is unhappy with cabinet members' efforts. Parliamentarians have voiced dissatisfaction about some ministers, and acted accordingly. Lawmakers will question Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi, Energy Minister Seyyed Parviz Fattah, and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati in the coming week, Fars News Agency reported on October 28.
When Iranian media reported in mid-September that assessments of the ministers' performance had been prepared, legislator Said Abutaleb argued that those "evaluations must certainly lead to some changes in the cabinet," "Mardom Salari" reported on September 16. Abutaleb referred to the Welfare and Commerce ministries specifically, saying the legislature would like to dissolve the Commerce Ministry. He warned that if the president did not implement changes, then the parliament was ready to step in by questioning and giving no-confidence motions to the ministers.
But another legislator, Hussein Afarideh from Shirvan, called the prospective replacements worse than the sitting ministers, "Mardom Salari" reported on September 16.
Meanwhile, in early October, more than 50 legislators signed a petition for the interpellation of Agriculture Jihad Minister Mohammad Reza Eskandari.
One legislator, Dariush Qanbari, charged that Iranian "agriculture is on the verge of collapse," Mehr News Agency reported on October 9. He said "farmers' crops [were] piling up in storehouses" while the country imports fruit from Pakistan. Qanbari also questioned the announcement of self-sufficiency in wheat production when "at the same time we are importing 2 million tons of wheat every year." He described the Agriculture Jihad Ministry as the most inefficient and uncooperative of ministries.
But fundamentalist legislators blocked the interpellation motion.
In mid-October, signatures were being gathered for the interpellation of Education Minister Qodratullah Farshidi. One legislator said there was "no doubt that the Education Minister has had a weak performance," but added that other cabinet members have performed poorly and should face questioning, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 16.
Governmental obscurity and a censored media ensure that it will be some time before the real reasons for the ministerial resignations and dismissals emerge. But it appears that the presidential administration's grappling with difficult economic issues will continue to cause turmoil in the state apparatus -- particularly if the populist president persists in efforts to fulfill his campaign promises.
The possible imposition of economic sanctions by the UN Security Council stemming from the nuclear controversy could only add to Ahmadinejad's troubles.
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