Ahmadinejad to name women ministers

TEHRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday he plans to appoint at least three women ministers to his new cabinet to be formally revealed next week, a first in the Islamic republic.

Ahmadinejad, a hardliner whose re-election in June set off the worst crisis in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic, said he would submit his new lineup to the 290-member parliament on Wednesday.

He will propose Fatemeh Ajorlou for the welfare and social security ministry and Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi for the health ministry, he said in a television interview.

"At least one other woman will be presented," he added.

Ahmadinejad also announced his choice for the powerful intelligence portfolio, after sacking the previous holder in a row over another controversial appointment, and said he will keep the same industry and economy ministers.

The main criteria for joining his new team are "morality and commitment, efficiency as well as convergence and spirit of cooperation," he said, adding that there would also be younger people in the cabinet.

The 52-year-old was sworn in on August 5 for a second four-year term although the declaration of his victory triggered massive street protests by opposition demonstrators who believe the result was rigged.

In his inauguration speech, Ahmadinejad said he will continue to resist "oppressive powers," pledging to campaign for social justice and root out corruption.

But in the election aftermath, Ahmadinejad also found himself at loggerheads with powerful elements within his own conservative support base over his tardiness in dismissing his nominee as first vice president despite orders from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He had come under fire during his first tenure for frequently reshuffling the cabinet, sacking 10 ministers and two central bank chiefs and retaining inexperienced ministers.

It may not be smooth sailing for his new government line-up either.

The nomination of Ajorlou is likely to stir controversy because of her involvement in the case of Abbas Palizdar, an Ahmadinejad supporter who was jailed for accusing several senior clerics, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and their children of corruption.

Ajorlou and some other MPs were interrogated last year by prosecutors over their alleged help to Palizdar, who was reportedly on a parliamentary team which conducted a probe into the judiciary.

According to press reports, Ajorlou and another lawmaker were sentenced to two years in jail for disclosing classified documents, although there is no official confirmation about the case.

The other woman nominee, Vahid Dastjerdi, is an academic and former MP.

In the previous administration Ahmadinejad had two women in his cabinet but not in a ministerial capacity -- Fatemeh Vaez Javadi, a vice president heading the Environmental Organisation, and Zohreh Tabibzadeh Nouri, vice president for women and family affairs.

Ahmadinejad said he will name Heydar Moslehi, a former representative of Khamenei in the volunteer Basij militia and a strong supporter of the president, as intelligence minister.

He will also retain Ali Akbar Mehrabian at the industry ministry and Shamseddin Hosseini as economy minister.

Mehrabian, who is aged under 40, faced difficulties securing parliament's vote of confidence due to his young age and lack of experience when he was first appointed in an October 2007 reshuffle.

A number of ministers who left or were ousted from the cabinet during Ahmadinejad's first four years complained that the president was not open to different ideas and criticism.

Many of his cabinet changes were interpreted as a way for Ahmadinejad to increase his influence over ministries by getting rid of people who disagreed with his policies.

Ahmadinejad's decision to appoint woman ministers has angered some hardliners and staunch supporters including Fatemeh Rajabi, the wife of his government spokesman, who slammed such a move as "apocalyptic".

"In the apocalypse women will conquer the government and anything they wish for," she wrote in an open letter to the president on August 8 carried on several websites.

"One cannot accept that Ahmadinejad's cabinet take a first step towards implementing the evil aims of feminists and seculars by appointing women ministers," Rajabi said. "You do not have a shortage of competent men."