(RFE/RL) -- Iran’s parliament has approved 18 out of 21 nominees for President Mahmud Ahmadinejad proposed cabinet. Three of the nominees were rejected, including two women.
Ahead of the vote, the Iranian president -- whose controversial reelection plunged the Islamic republic into crisis -- urged the parliament to approve his team, saying this would deliver a "punch" to Iran's enemies.
The parliament debated the proposed cabinet for five days, with lawmakers heavily criticizing some of the nominees, including some who were eventually approved. Analysts say many of the nominees were chosen based on their loyalty to Ahmadinejad, and not because of relevant knowledge or experience.
Ahmadinejad’s controversial choice for defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, was easily approved. Vahidi is among the Iranian officials accused by Argentina of being involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center.
He gained support earlier this week when lawmakers said they would not bow to foreign pressure to reject him.
Lawmakers cast their votes in parliament.
Vahidi was officially approved by about 80 percent of the parliament’s members.
Nominees must receive at least 50 percent of the votes to be confirmed.
For the first time in the Islamic republic, a woman was approved as minister. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, a university professor and former lawmaker, is Iran’s new health minister.
But two other women nominees were rejected. Susan Keshvaraz had been tapped to serve as education minister, and Fatemeh Ajorlu had been Ahmadinejad's choice for welfare and social security minister.
A number of women activists say they don't think the appointment of female nominees from the conservative camp -- as Vahid Dastjerdi, Keshvaraz, and Ajorlu all are -- will necessarily lead to an improvement in women's rights in Iran.
“This could be a very positive propaganda maneuver for Ahamdinejad, who will say he appointed a woman as minister for the first time," Fahimeh Khezre Heydari, a journalist and women rights activist in Tehran, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.
"I say that based on Ahmadinejad's choice of nominees. If [he] wanted to take the issue of women’s political participation seriously, then he should have nominated women who are competent, not women who not only don’t have sufficient management experience but also have done nothing to help women’s demands and have acted worse than patriarchal men.”
Fifty-year-old Vahid Dastjerdi has reportedly been a supporter of segregation at hospitals. Boost For Embattled President
The nominee for energy minister, Mohammad Aliabadi, was also rejected by the conservative-dominated parliament.
The nominee for oil minister, Massud Mirkazemi, had a difficult time as well. He had come under early attack for not having relevant experience for the post and being forced to learn needed skills on the job.
Lawmaker Hamid Reza Katouzian had said Mirkazemi, who currently serves as commerce minister, was incapable of "defending Iran’s rights in an OPEC conference."
But Mirkazemi was ultimately approved by a small margin.
Ahmadinejad said his cabinet would deliver a "punch" to Iran's enemies.
Observers say the strong support lawmakers showed for most of the key nominees is a boost for the embattled Iranian president amid continuing accusations of fraud in the June 12 presidential vote, which saw Ahmadinejad win decisively in the first round.
A California-based political analyst, Massud Safiri, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that he doesn’t expect the parliament to show any serious opposition to Ahmadinejad and his polices.
“The [parliament and the government] are both from the same [conservative] faction. And due to the emphasis [by Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] on unsparing support for the government, the parliament is forced to back it," Safiri says. "But both sides want to prove that they’re independent.”
Safiri added that the main challenge for Ahmadinejad could come from a significant number of Iranians who are still unhappy about his reelection.
Before today’s vote, Ahmadinejad said the government and the parliament are determined to work together to build the country and create justice.
Radio Farda broadcaster Ruzbeh Bolhari contributed to this report.