By Golnaz Esfandiari
January 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) --
More than half of the 290 lawmakers in Iran's parliament have backed a letter
assailing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's budget preparations. In it, they attack
his government for failing to present a budget on time and warn that it must be
realistic in its basic assumptions.
The letter comes amid growing criticism
of Ahmadinejad's economic and international policies, including an indirect
rebuke from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad is likely to get a frosty reception when he goes before the
parliament on January 21 to present his proposed budget.
Saharkhiz, a prominent pro-reform journalist in Tehran, told Radio Farda
recently that Ahmadinejad is coming under increasing fire from
"Other members of parliament have individually
criticized the government and Ahmadinejad himself," Saharkhiz said. "If you look
at the work of the parliament in the past two weeks, you can see a sort of
opposition and confrontation with the government on different issues."
More than half of the
members of the conservative-dominated parliament have criticized government
spending and a perceived over-reliance on oil revenues. Critics have cautioned
that reserves from oil earnings are in poor shape and that the falling price of
oil is worrying.
Legislators have also argued that the government
must reexamine its economic policies and management -- which many blame for a
surge in inflation and a failure to reduce unemployment.
Ahmadinejad, who has been in
office since mid-2005, has in the past defended his economic polices and blamed
previous governments for such problems.
conservative legislators have begun collecting signatures to demand that
Ahmadinejad appear before the parliament to answer questions regarding his
nuclear policy and other issues. They have reportedly collected at
least 50 of the 75 legislative signatures required to summon the president.
Observers say the parliament's recent moves
indicate a growing dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad's performance -- and an
attempt by some conservative legislators to distance themselves from his
Ahmadinejad and his allies were dealt a heavy blow in
recent local elections when voters rejected many of his favored candidates. The
adoption in December of UN Security Council sanctions to pressure Iran over its
nuclear work followed. Critics accuse Ahmadinejad of undermining Iranian
interests through his harsh rhetoric and actions like Tehran's hosting of a
recent Holocaust-deniers' conference.
The conservative daily "Jomhuri Eslami" advised
President Ahmadinejad in an early January editorial that he should remain silent
on the nuclear topic and instead leave the talking to those who are in charge.
The daily is said to reflect the views of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who
has the final word in official Iranian affairs.
The conservative daily "Jomhuri Eslami" advised President
Ahmadinejad in an early January editorial that he should remain silent on the
nuclear topic and instead leave the talking to those who are in
For Saharkhiz, the spate of criticism targeting Iran's
president suggests that Ahmadinejad's best days are behind him. He suspects that
Ahmadinejad is losing the trust of Iran's leader.
cannot as easily as before meet with Mr. Khamenei, and the criticism...among
clerics shows that the golden era of Mr. Ahmadinejad has ended and that he is
moving very rapidly toward a fall," Saharkhiz said.
confrontational international style and hostility toward the West are also
Many have criticized Ahmadinejad's recent
tour to Latin America -- where he met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez,
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and other U.S. irritants -- as well as its
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former vice president, described
it as "the most expensive and most useless" of foreign endeavors by the
government. The moderate "Ettemade Melli" daily asked whether Chavez and Ortega
can possibly be "Iran's strategic allies."
Rising prices are another reason for growing
discontent with the government. A former Tehran mayor, Ahmadinejad rose to
national prominence in 2005 with a pledge to bring Iran's oil revenues to
households. But in recent months, food prices have climbed as the cost of
housing has done the same.
A deputy speaker of
the parliament, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, said on January 7 that the government had
promised low-interest loans for housing -- a move that increases demand in the
sector and with a knock-on effect on rents and purchase prices.
Sadegh Zibakalam, a political analyst in Tehran, speculates that some of
Ahmadinejad's supporters are also losing patience with the president.
"Those who voted for Ahmadinejad 18 months ago might feel that things have
not really changed," Zibakalam said. "Of course, nobody expects social justice
to be applied and all economic problems solved in Iran in 18 months -- but even
the lowest expectation was that Ahmadinejad's government would have some
concrete and reasonable programs to deal with it."
it is still unclear what actions Ahmadinejad might take in the face of the
"Until today, he hasn't shown a serious
reaction to the problems," Zibakalm said. "Whenever he has a speech, instead of
talking about the main problems, he says, for example, that on the international
scene all the Muslims are with us. [His stances] have nothing to do with the
problems that people are feeling and dealing with in their daily
(Radio Farda correspondent Behruz Karuni contributed to