In a single day earlier this week, the Iranian parliament dealt three blows to the presidency of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who has become a political punching bag as the result of a continuing power struggle with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The battle has heated up over Ahmadinejad’s repeated attempts to make inroads into Khamenei’s spheres of influence.
Embattled Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (right) has been faring badly in a continuing power struggle with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ahmadinejad and his entourage, which counts among its ranks former Revolutionary Guard members who fought in the Iran-Iraq War, are under attack from Khamenei’s camp, comprising senior clerics, conservative politicians and rival Revolutionary Guard commanders.
On June 21, the parliament launched impeachment proceedings against Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi over the appointment of his deputy, Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, who was forced to resign after just three days on the job. Malekzadeh was arrested on corruption charges on June 23.
The parliament then rejected Hamid Sajjadi, Ahmadinejad’s nominee for the newly created Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry, due to his “lack of experience.”
The parliament also vetoed Ahmadinejad’s decision to merge the Oil Ministry with the Industry Ministry.
As if that triple blow were not humiliation enough, lawmakers booed a colleague who attempted to escort Ahmadinejad to the door of the parliamentary chamber, driving the hapless deputy back to this seat.
That was a stark contrast to the picture just a few months ago, when Ahmadinejad was routinely surrounded by crowds of lawmakers eager to seek his opinion during his visits to the legislature.
The parliament - which has also launched an investigation into vote-buying ahead of the 2009 disputed Presidential election - is believed to be undermining the Iranian president with the express blessing of the Iranian leader.
Khamenei, who publicly humiliated Ahmadinejad in April when he reversed the president’s decision to fire Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, is said to be using parliament to clip the wings of the ambitious Ahmadinejad and keep him under control.
In recent days several legislators have threatened Ahmadinejad with impeachment. Deputy Fazel Mousavi said last week that Ahmadinejad was “two yellow cards away” from losing office.
President Ahmadinejad (L) has been undermined by his close association with the deeply unpopular former Vice President Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei.
Lawmaker Ali Motahari, known as a staunch critic of the president, said a motion to question Ahmadinejad - a measure that could serve as a prelude to impeachment - will be tabled in ten days.
Those threats are unlikely to be acted upon for the time being, say most analysts. They maintain that Khamenei has not yet given the green light for the impeachment of the man whom he once said he trusted more than his predecessors as president.
A Policy Of Containment
Political analyst and journalist Reza Alijani, who fled Iran recently, says that Khamenei’s policy for dealing with Ahmadinejad and his entourage is essentially based on the principle of containment, holding the president at bay without completely destroying him politically.
Yet Alijani warns that Ahmadinejad’s next moves remain a big source of uncertainty.
“We do not know about what’s happening behind the scenes or anything about the plans of Ahmadinejad and his clique, and this is key," he says. "The actions of Khamenei are predictable - but that is not true at all of Ahmadinejad’s moves.”
Ahmadinejad’s dismissal would fracture Iran’s already unstable political establishment even more and could lead to uncertainty at a time when the country is fragile domestically due to a shaky economy and the risk of more street protests inspired by the Arab Spring. On the international scene the country faces increasing isolation over its sensitive nuclear work.
Ahmadinejad’s removal would also be another blow to Khamenei’s legitimacy, which has already been seriously damaged by his past support for Ahmadinejad and his endorsement of the president’s disputed reelection despite allegations of massive fraud and street protests.
“Our understanding is that [Khamenei] would like the government to continue its work in peace until the end of its legal term, [and] that he would like the political life of the government to end naturally,” said lawmaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar last month.
Treading Water With A Deviant Current
Yet Ali Mazroui, a former legislator and a senior member of Iran’s largest political reformist political party, tells RFE/RL that there is a chance Ahmadinejad could be dismissed before the end of his term in 2013.
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