MPs oppose Ahmadinejad cabinet

TEHRAN: In a fresh blow to embattled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, top conservative MPs on Sunday came out strongly against his proposed cabinet line-up, as the parliamentary vetting process began.

"Sixteen nominees have no experience required for the ministries they have been nominated for," said powerful MP Ahmad Tavakoli as parliament kicked off a three-day debate on the 21-member cabinet that will culminate Wednesday in a vote of confidence.

"The cabinet lacks harmony in its view when it comes to handling crucial issues such as economic development. The views of candidates nominated to head the economy, oil and commerce ministries contradict that of the agriculture ministry nominee," Tavakoli said.

Another top conservative, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, said he will "definitely not vote" for certain of the candidates.

"Some nominees of four or five ministries have an educational background which is contradictory to their portfolios," Bahonar said as the debate raged in the chamber.

Ahmadinejad, whose re-election triggered the worst crisis in the Islamic republic's history and divided the country's clerical groups, is under fire from his own hardline supporters over several political decisions he made soon after his disputed June 12 victory.

He now faces a daunting task in securing parliamentary approval for a line-up which includes many new faces, among them three women -- a first in the Islamic republic.

The confidence vote comes as Iran is mired in political turmoil after Ahmadinejad's disputed victory triggered massive street protests which killed at least 30 people and shook the very foundations of the Islamic regime.

Ahmadinejad has retained five ministers in the same posts, including Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Current defence minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar has been nominated as interior minister, while commerce minister Masoud Mirkazemi is his pick for the crucial oil ministry in OPEC's second largest exporter.

However, Mirkazemi is expected to be rejected because of his lack of expertise in the sector, media reports said. He was also nearly impeached in 2007 and 2008 over rising prices of basic commodities.

The three female nominees are also expected to face an uphill battle following opposition from hardline clerics.

Sousan Keshvaraz, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi and Fatemeh Ajorlou have been proposed respectively as ministers of education, health, and welfare and social security. All three lack ministerial experience.

Tavakoli warned that the new cabinet could divide Iranian society.

"The nominee for the science ministry was the head of the election commission. From the point of view of protesters, he is the main accused over the recent bitter incidents," he said of the post-election unrest.

"This has the potential to divide society." Ahmadinejad urged parliament to approve his new cabinet and said his election victory was confirmation that the people wanted his government to "continue on the same path" he followed in his first four-year term.

"We are committed to spreading justice, preserving the national dignity, achieving progress and confronting the bullying powers. We will continue to support oppressed nations and cooperate constructively with all nations except the Zionist regime," he said of arch-foe Israel.

Lawmaker Ali Akbar Yousefnajed, who was a senior official in the government of Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor Mohammad Khatami, criticised the hardliner.

"How come we have 14 new faces?" he asked. "Where are those who were sacked in the last four years?" During his first term, Ahmadinejad received flak for firing 10 ministers, two central bank chiefs and several other top officials.

But conservative MP Hossein Garousi defended the president.

"If we saw people changing (in the existing cabinet), it was because the president is very meticulous when it comes to management," he said.

Ahmadinejad defended the presence of women in the cabinet, saying it raised the "self-confidence" of women in Iran. "I take pride in selecting them," he said.

Conservative MP Qassem Mohammadi appeared to back him.

"I do not understand why they want to keep 50 percent of the nation's potential in the kitchen," he said.

At the end of the day's session, Ahmadinejad took the floor again to defend his present government as the "cleanest." He dismissed allegations that he had chosen a cabinet that would be "obedient" to him.

The president vowed to form his new government "with as many ministers who obtain a vote of confidence." fpn-aet-jds-hif/bpz Iran-politics AFP 301557 GMT AUG 09.