Even in as secretive a government as Iran, it is anything but confidential that the members of the country’s parliament are not big fans of President Ahmadinejad.
If anyone had doubts, they were removed last year when the Iranian legislative body, known as the Majles, voted to reduce the president’s term by eighteen months. They failed that first time, but now, still determined, they are making another attempt. (link in Farsi)
The official reason given at the time of their first try was that because parliamentary elections usually take place one year before the presidential elections. This, the Majiles argued, creates unnecessary expenses for the country – if both elections were held on the same day, time and money could be saved.
Furthermore, the Majles elections usually cause plans and policies under consideration to be suspended for six months before the elections, due to campaigning needs, and the usual uncertainty which surround upcoming elections. This also happens six months before the presidential polling.
Despite the validity of its arguments, and the approval of the bill by majority of parliamentarians, the Majles failed in its attempt to move the presidential elections forward — because the Guardian Council, did not approve the bill. The Guardian Council, composed of 12 powerful members, has the authority to review all bills passed by the Majles, and approve or reject them on the basis of whether they are in accordance to Islamic law and the Iranian constitution.
Most observers thought that after the Council issued the veto the first time, the parliamentarians would abandon their attempt to cut Ahmadinejad’s term short. They were wrong.
The reason – the Majles’s considerations aren’t really practical or budgetary — they’re personal. I
t’s no coincidence that they decided to try to make this change during Ahmadinejad’s term. After all, he is not the first president whose elections take place one year after theirs. The Iranian election system was the same when Khamenei, Rafsanjani and Khatami were president, but the Majles had no incentive to make the changes with presidents who made an effort to work with them.
Ahmadinejad on the other hand, soon after being elected, started to turn his back on them. In one notable case, involving the funding of the Emam Reza Love Fund (An Ahmadinejad-created fund which provides cheap loans to poor newly married couples), he completely ignored the Majles, and carried on as if the parliament did not exist after the Majles did not pass the full $1.3 billion budget allocated for it.
Instead of reducing the figure, or trying to come to some sort of a deal, Ahmadinejad circumvented the parliament in order to get what he wanted, fully funding his pet project using executive power given to his office that is only supposed to be exercised under exceptional circumstances.
Behavior of this sort, in addition to the president’s decision to ignore the repeated parliamentary calls to tackle the problem of inflation, have created considerable personal animosity against him; the results of which can be seen in this second attempt to reduce his term, this time by four months.
If the Guardian Council disapproves again, Iranian law dictates that the matter must be referred to the Expediency Council, whose job is it to resolve outstanding issues between the Guardian Council and the Majles.
What makes the situation particularly worrisome for Ahmadinejad is the fact that the Expediency Council is headed by his arch rival, and political nemesis, Ayatollah Rafsanjani — Ahmadinejad’s most powerful foe with a number of scores to settle with him. The first offense was the firing of Rafsanjani’s firing of his son from the Tehran Municipality in 2005, by Ahmadinejad (who was then Mayor), because he took a two week vacation from work in order to assist in his father’s campaign.
Then, obviously was the surprise defeat of Rafsanjani in the 2005 presidential elections. This left Rafsanjani absolutely furious, and he charged that there was electoral fraud in Ahmadinejad’s favor.
Since then, he has been waiting to get even with Ahmadinejad, and this could be the chance he has been waiting for.
But all is not lost for the Iranian president. It is very possible that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei might step in to save Ahmadinejad. Still, this move by the parliament his isolation should be taken as a clear sign by the West — among other recent signs — that they are dealing with a weakening politician, and not the nuclear champion of Iran, as he would like the world to think.
Meir Javedanfar is a Middle East analyst at the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company (Meepas). Together with Yossi Melman, he is also the coauthor of the upcoming book The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.