At a time when the international community's attention is focused on Tehran's nuclear program, Iranian politicians are more preoccupied by the country's increasingly dysfunctional politics. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appears to undercutting many government institutions, including the presidency, leaving him more directly in charge. An important indicator of how far this process will go is the extent to which parliament confronts President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Majlis To Question Ahmadinejad
In 1981, Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini ordered parliament to dismiss the Islamic Republic's first president. Since then, however, the Majlis has not used its authority to even question the president, much less threaten his position.
Recent years have been marked by sharp disagreements between the Majlis and Ahmadinejad that have grown worse over time. Last year, for instance, Ahmadinejad ignored the previously sacrosanct legal deadline for submitting a budget, so the Majlis approved only a provisional budget to cover two months while it debated how to change the full year's spending. This year, Ahmadinejad submitted the budget even later, infuriating the Majlis. As conservative parliamentarian Nasrollah Kamalian told his colleagues, "We have less than ten days to the New Year and the cabinet is not concerned about its next budget and puts no effort into sending the budget bill. Due to national interests, I cannot mention the reasons for [the president's] behavior in an on-the-record session."
After several requests from the Majlis, Ahmadinejad finally agreed to attend a session of parliament at which he will answer questions, though it will not be a formal "interpellation" under the procedures set out in the constitution. Presumably, he acquiesced only under pressure from Khamenei. Scheduled for March 14, the meeting has been postponed several times and may be again, though that date holds advantages for Ahmadinejad because it is the parliament's last on-the-record session before the Persian New Year. Since no newspapers will be publishing during the two-week New Year holiday, the media will have little chance to bring the meeting and its outcome to public attention.
Once the meeting is held, the Majlis will be limited to ten questions whose content has already been made public. Four of them are economic: Why did the cabinet not implement the law funding the subway in Tehran and other large cities? What, if not economic mismanagement, accounts for the 2011 growth rate being well below the government's 8 percent target? (Officials claim the rate was 4.5 percent, but the International Monetary Fund reports only 3 percent, even after upward revision.) How did government spend last year's $150 million allocation for elevating the country's cultural indicators? Why did the government not implement the subsidy reform provisions to compensate the agricultural and industrial sectors for their increased production costs?