DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was summoned to parliament on Wednesday for an unprecedented grilling by lawmakers who accused him of economic mismanagement and making “illegal” appointments.
Less than two weeks after a drubbing in parliamentary elections, Ahmadinejad became the first president in the Islamic Republic’s history to be called before the legislature which has the power to impeach him if unsatisfied with his answers.
Traditionalist factions who express complete loyalty to Iran’s most powerful figure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have been trying to summon Ahmadinejad for months over what they say are repeated challenges to the supreme leader’s authority.
Emboldened by their success over Ahmadinejad supporters at parliamentary elections this month, they finally had the chance to interrogate the president about the near-stagnant, high-inflation economy and concerns over his allegiance to Khamenei.
Chairing the meeting, lawmaker Ali Motahari asked why Ahmadinejad had stayed at home for several days last April after Khamenei overturned the president’s decision to sack the intelligence minister - an absence seen by some as a protest against the supreme leader’s decision.
Belying his weakened standing, Ahmadinejad responded in a confident and, at times, flippant tone that did little to calm the excitement of the hearing, broadcast live on state radio.
On his absence from work last April, he said: “This is one of those things - Ahmadinejad staying home and resting. Some of my friends have repeatedly told me to rest. In this government, work has never been stopped for even a day.”
He played down the historic significance of the summons, saying it was parliament’s right and not out of the ordinary.
“I was ready to answer questions before the election,” he said. “But I thought it might have an impact on election results and then I would be blamed for it. I am the easiest to blame.”
After an hour-long grilling that included questions on the botched financing of the Tehran metro and the veracity of government figures showing the creation of 1.6 million jobs in 2009 and 2010, many parliamentarians remained unimpressed.
“Ahmadinejad’s answers to lawmakers’ questions were illogical, illegal and an attempt to avoid answering them. With an insulting tone, Ahmadinejad made fun of lawmakers’ questions and insulted parliament,” Mohammad Taqi Rahbar was quoted as saying by parliament’s news agency.
Having made several ministerial appointments that were unpopular with parliament - including a brief stint when he named himself oil minister, in charge of Iran’s biggest economic sector - Ahmadinejad was questioned about how he picked people for key posts.
Outgoing reformist lawmaker Mostafa Kavakebian said: “The president did not give any logical answers and took everything as a joke.”
Attacks on Ahmadinejad by rival hardliners in parliament increased after last year’s spat over the intelligence minister with his critics saying any challenge to Khamenei threatens the foundations of the Islamic Republic.
The theocratic nation’s first president, Abolhassan Banisadr, was impeached in 1981 and fled the country after being accused of threatening Iran’s new religious foundations.
Editing by Robin Pomeroy