Washington, D.C. – According to Bahman Baktiari, Director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah, President Ahmadinejad is facing an unprecedented level of confrontation with the Majlis–Iran’s Parliament–on key topics including economic and foreign policy.
Baktiari spoke on Tuesday at a Woodrow Wilson Center event entitled, “Ahmadinejad’s Confrontation with the Iranian Parliament.” He was introduced to an audience of scholars, journalists, and academics by Haleh Esfandari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“As of November 2010, senior parliamentarians with unquestioned conservative credentials are making statements about Ahmadinejad that are unprecedented in Iranian history, but also unprecedented in the press coverage that it gets,” said Baktiari. The frustration of these conservative parliamentarians, he said, stem from their continued frustration with Ahmadinejad’s decision-making and his refusal to recognize Parliament’s authority on certain matters.
Baktiari explained that, in the past year, Ahmadinejad has refused to sign or completely ignored half a dozen laws introduced by the Majlis, including on key economic matters. In addition, a recent report by the Majlis states that Ahmadinejad’s government has only complied with 59 percent of 159 laws passed.
Disagreements between Ahmadinejad and conservatives in the Majlis go beyond Iran’s economic policy. According to Baktiari, “behind the scenes, all criticize the president’s bellicosity towards the West and poor handling of the nuclear issue.” Ahmadinejad’s statement in June 2010 on a visit to China that “UN Security sanctions are nothing but simple pieces of paper,” was directed not towards the international community, Bakthiari said, but rather towards the Majlis for paying too much attention to foreign policy issues.
It is only recently that many senior Iranian officials have been more vocal about their frustration with Ahmadinejad. Prime Minister Ahmad Tavakoli, a conservative hardliner and strong supporter of the merchant class in Iran, recently said, “Despite sincere warnings by well wishers you continue to violate the law. Even when the esteemed leader of the revolution also steps in, you do not correct your direction.” The accusations were made in an open statement to Ahmadinejad.
“In the Iranian capitol today, all eyes are on struggle of Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament and [Ahmadinejad’s] silent enemy,” said Baktiari. What makes Larijiani so different from his predecessors and other powerful government officials is a combination of his family history, his relationship with the Supreme Leader, his experience with the Revolutionary Guard, and his political ambition. Baktiari argues that Larijani is thusly able leverage his position as Speaker of the Majlis to confidently criticize Ahmadinejad.
According to Baktiari, for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, “the political costs of protecting Ahmadinejad are getting higher every day.” However, Baktiari argues the Supreme Leader continues to support Ahmadinejad because “he cannot afford a weakening of a president that he has so hardly defended for the past six years, including on election issues.” As the Supreme Leader continues to step in, Bakhtiari said, he undermines Iran’s political system and reinforces support for those who have been calling for a reevaluation of his authority.
Ahmadinejad’s current position in Iran suggests that there has been a drastic shift in Iran’s government, according to Baktiari. “It shows that the conflict going on between the Parliament and Ahmadinejad’s government is much deeper, challenging other major institutions of the Islamic Republic as well as the constitutionally approved process for resolving conflict among them.”