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Iran: Ministerial Rejection Belies Emergence Of New Elite

  • Bill Samii --> Enter Ahmadinejad (right)...and friends (AFP) The Iranian parliament rejected President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's third nominee to head the Petroleum Ministry on 23 November, leaving the ministry responsible for the main source of Iranian revenues leaderless and signaling the difficulties facing Ahmadinejad's administration.

Ahmadinejad should not be counted out, however, since his electoral victory and virtually all the other appointments he has made indicate the rise of a new elite in Iranian affairs.

Out of the 261 parliamentarians who were present at the 23 November session, 77 cast votes in favor of the nominee, Seyyed Mohsen Tasaloti, state radio reported. The remaining votes were 139 against and 38 abstentions. During the debate that preceded the vote, objections were raised to Tasaloti's perceived lack of experience and professional expertise, and there were questions about his personal life. Legislators complained that Tasaloti did not believe in the existence of an oil mafia and he did not have a program for combating this phenomenon. They also raised allegations that Tasaloti backed the reformist Mustafa Moin in the 2005 presidential race, although Ahmadinejad rejected those concerns, saying, "We believe that elections are free and by secret ballot, and we don't have the right to make someone's vote the criterion for assessing them."

A Rising Tide

The parliament rejected Ahmadinejad's first nominee as petroleum minister, Ali Saidlu, in August on the basis of inexperience. At the same time, it also rejected nominees for three other cabinet posts. The next Petroleum Ministry nominee, Sadeq Mahsuli, withdrew his name on 9 November, the day the legislators were scheduled to vote on him. Ahmadinejad nominated Tasaloti in a 15 November letter to parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel.

Tasaloti addressing the legislature on 23 November (Fars)

Born in Kashan in 1954 and educated as an architect, Tasaloti is director of the engineering design, construction, and building foundation of the National Petrochemical Industrial Company. He also serves as general manager for the Mahshahr Special Economic Energy Zone in Khuzestan Province, which, according to Fars News Agency, is home to several petrochemical units.

Four days after Tasaloti's nomination, parliamentary Energy Committee Chairman Kamal Daneshyar said the legislature was investigating allegations that Tasaloti has dual citizenship and that his daughter is a British citizen, ILNA reported. Daneshyar said that Tasaloti's opponents were campaigning against him in earnest, and he declined to speculate on the outcome of the vote of confidence.

Tasaloti met with some 50 members of parliament late on 20 November, Mehr News Agency reported the next day. Before Tasaloti began fielding questions, conservative legislator Seyyed Ali Riaz headed off questions about whether Tasaloti holds dual citizenship by citing the parliamentary research center's determination that the nominee has no such dual status. Riaz said Tasaloti subsequently answered queries about his personal life, ethics, technical skills, and managerial experience. Riaz called the answers satisfactory and said the conservatives did not want the ministry run by a caretaker any longer.

Another legislator, Reza Talai-Nik of Bahar and Kabudarahang, said Tasaloti did not give appropriate answers, Mehr reported. The reformist Nureddin Pirmoazen of Ardabil said the legislative minority would not interfere with the approval process because it did not believe the current government could solve the country's problems. He said the cabinet should be complete as soon as possible so the Ahmadinejad administration's shortcomings could not be blamed on the reformists.

One day before the vote of confidence on Tasaloti was to take place, the 31-member central council of the conservative parliamentary majority faction failed to back him at a session to review his nomination, Fars News Agency reported on 22 November. The conservative faction designated parliamentary speaker Haddad-Adel, deputy speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Tehran representative Ahmad Tavakoli, and Mashhad's Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Faker to discuss the situation with President Ahmadinejad. Seyyed Jalal Yahyazadeh, who represents Taft and Meybod, said that the Intelligence and Security Ministry must investigate allegations that Tasaloti has a U.S. Green Card, Fars News Agency reported.

Creation Of A New Elite

Ahmadinejad appeared to recognize the need for him to lobby on behalf of his nominee. The president canceled a planned trip to Tunis to address the World Summit on the Information Society conference, Kuwait News Agency reported on 15 November, citing "Kayhan" newspaper. The newspaper attributed the change in travel plans to the deteriorating health of the president's father. Ahmadinejad then canceled a 23 November visit to Ilam Province, Fars News Agency reported the previous day, although it provided no explanation.

Clearly, Ahmadinejad's presence did not suffice. Parliamentary speaker Haddad-Adel said on 23 November that Ahmadinejad would have been wise to consult with the legislature, although he is not obliged to do so, state radio and IRNA reported. Haddad-Adel said it is almost unprecedented not to have a cabinet minister three months after the president was sworn in, adding that Article 135 of the constitution says no ministry should be headed by a caretaker for longer than three months. He said the Guardians Council and Expediency Council will have to decide how to proceed.

Ahmadinejad's efforts to effect wide-ranging personnel changes throughout the state apparatus have not been well received. At a conference in Tehran the previous week, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani accused Ahmadinejad of undermining public confidence in the accomplishments of the revolution. Moreover, some political observers in Iran consider Ahmadinejad's cabinet members to be nonentities with few achievements to their names -- people of limited competence who were selected on the basis of connections and a shared background with the president. Some of the perceived commonalities are education, service in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and a connection with ultra-orthodox religious figures and institutions.

Even though the president is experiencing a great deal of trouble with the Petroleum Ministry portfolio, he has effected changes in almost all first- and second-tier management positions. His interventions have affected the diplomatic corps, provincial governorships, and state banking institutions. Anhmadinejad is also in the process of redistributing wealth to the periphery. Dismissing him and the second revolutionary generation that he represents is thus unwise, since he is essentially creating a new elite in Iran.
RFE/RL Iran Report

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