Iran's parliament has ordered a sitting president to testify before it for the first time in history, part of an ongoing political and power struggle between the president and the supreme leader's respective factions.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was summoned by parliament on Wednesday to defend his government's track record, the first time that a president has been called before the legislature since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
President Ahmadinejad's parliamentary grilling comes two weeks after national elections, which saw his faction's support slip in favor of groups primarily loyal to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini. The supporters of Iran's supreme leader took three-quarters of the seats in the 290-member parliament, weakening Ahmadinejad's power.
A total of 79 representatives signed a petition in February calling on the president to testify. The hearing was broadcast live via radio in Iran.
Parliament questioned Ahmadinejad on his management of the economy and his loyalty to Khameini. Iran's economy currently faces 30 percent inflation and a currency that has been weakened by Western sanctions, imposed in response to Iran's nuclear program.
Track record scrutinized
Lawmaker Ali Motahari asked the Iranian president why he stayed home several days in April after Ayatollah Khameini ordered an intelligence chief re-instated who Ahmadinejad had sacked.
The Iranian president's decision to sack the minister was seen by some observers as an attempt to challenge Khameini's power, and his decision to stay home as a protest against the supreme leader's decree that reversed the intelligence chief's firing.
Ahmadinejad responded with confidence, brushing off the lawmaker's question about his loyalty to the supreme leader.
"This is one of those things - Ahmadinejad staying home and resting," the Iranian president said. "Some of my friends have repeatedly told me to rest. In this government, work has never been stopped for even a day."
The president defended his economic record, saying that growth was strong and that higher prices had "nothing to do" with his 2010 decision that scrapped subsidies for staple foods and fuel.
Ahmadinejad also stood by his view that rule on Islamic dress codes should be loosened.
"The young people should be respected," he said. "Do not put young men and woman in a vice."
Under the Iranian constitution, parliament has the power to summon the president, although this power had never been used before. Parliament can impeach the president if it determines that the president's answers are unsatisfactory.
"Ahmadinejad's answers to lawmakers' questions were illogical, illegal and an attempt to avoid answering them," lawmaker Mohammad Taqi Rahbar was quoted as saying by the parliament's news agency. "With an insulting tone, Ahmadinejad made fun of lawmakers' questions and insulted parliament."
Analysts, however, said it was unlikely that parliament would move to impeach Ahmadinejad, who is serving his second and final term as president, which will end in 2013.
"Khameini is clearly in charge and regards Ahmadinejad as too useful and divisive a figure to get rid of," Ali Ansari of St. Andrews University in Scotland told the news agency Reuters. "Heaven forbid that a competent and well-liked president take office who might pose a serious challenge to Khameini."
slk/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)