Iran: Lobbying, Schmoozing and Scheming

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For decades, Washington D.C. has been considered the lobbying capital of the world, where parties, dinners, conventions and private meetings are used by different groups to promote their interest. Tehran, on the other hand, has never been known to the outside world as a party capital. However, ask any Tehrani, especially from the northern part of the city, and they would strongly disagree.

It is not just the city's inhabitants who like to throw festivities. Its politicians and lobbyists also have a liking for parties. In fact, lately the lobbyist party scene in Tehran has been buzzing with activity. Last week saw a peak in the number lobbying parties in the nation's capital city. With the Iranian parliament (Majles) scheduled to vote on Ahmadinejad's nominated cabinet, many such gatherings were used to promote different interest groups within the Islamic Republic.

One of the most lavish lobbyist banquets took place last Tuesday, where according to the Tehran based Khabar Online news site, an expensive restaurant near Park Saee was booked for 200 people. The event was paid for by one of Iran's banks.

Such parties are usually used by the nominated ministers to schmooze with the parliamentarians, with the hope that they would vote for them. All kinds of promises are made by nominated ministers. Some promise that, if elected, they would provide financial assistance to the constituency of the parliamentarian. Others promise to help local mosques and hospitals. In one extreme case, a nominated Minister was accused of trying to buy the vote of a parliamentarian.

These parties are not only used by the nominated ministers. Sensing an important business opportunity, parliamentarians have decided to take the initiative by arranging their own parties where they invite the nominated minister. They then proceed to grill him or her to determine how much help he is prepared to provide in return for their vote. This was witnessed last week when parliamentarians from the province of Ardebil threw a party where they hosted the nominated Minister for Housing to see what promises he is willing to make in return for their vote.

Meanwhile, Iran's banks are often more than happy to sponsor such events as they provide an opportunity to strengthen their relationships with parliamentarians and nominated ministers. Their hope is that these relationships can later be used to promote the interests of their banks.

Despite the festive nature of these parties, once the party hats are put away, the strained relationship between President Ahmadinejad and the Majles is likely to rear its head again. We should not forget that the previous Majles rejected his choice for Oil Minister three times. The Iranian legislative body then went on to try and reduce Ahmadinejad's term as president. The soured relations did not end there. Humiliatingly for the president, the Majles shot down his plans to reduce subsidies on commodities such as electricity.

And this time, the Majles members seem to be in no mood for compromise. The chit chat and polite pleasantries have not prevented the parliamentarians from asking very tough questions of Mr. Ahmadinejad's nominees. Mohammad Ali Abadifard, nominated for the post of Minister of Energy, was one of the nominees to suffer such consequences. Parliamentarians immediately requested an official investigation into his past at Iran's National Sports Organization. So instead of impressing them with his knowledge and capabilities, Abadifard now must answer to corruption charges relating to financial irregularities in Iran's bid to host the Islamic games.

Ali Akbar Mehrabian has also faced considerable hostilities. Nominated to the post of Minister of Industry, the fact that he was accused of stealing a patent from an Iranian scientist has damaged his credibility and the chances of getting approved for the post. One Minister who is likely to be particularly problematic for Ahmadinejad is Massoud Mir Kazemi. Nominated for the post of Oil Minister, his lack of experience is likely to provide President Ahmadinejad with major problems for his nomination.

The recent upheaval in Iran has damaged the credibility of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Increased tension between him and the Majles is likely to cause further loss of legitimacy for the President. It could also slow down his social and economic plans, as he relies on the Majles for their approval.

However, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei should be equally concerned. His decision to back Ahmadinejad fostered cracks within the regime. Any further infighting in the Majles could deepen those cracks. With tougher sanctions against Iran expected in the near future, the Iranian political system needs to be united. Sanctions and tension with the West could further divide the public and the politicians from the Supreme Leader and the President. What happens in the Majles will be an important barometer of how healthy the post-presidential elections regime in Iran is.

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