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Analysis: Iran New 'Cabinet Of Unknowns'?

Ahmadinejad has named conservative MP Manouchehr Mottaki as foreign minister, who has served as ambassador to Japan and Turkey and has strongly backed Iran's nuclear program.

Tehran (UPI) Aug 18, 2005
Despite his crushing victory in Iran's June election that gave hardliners control of almost every one of the country's institutions, Iran's newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not seem to find it easy to form his government as the process has been marked by intense negotiations and serious objections from the conservative-dominated parliament.

To be approved as a minister, a nominee has to win a simple majority of the 290-seat parliament.

Ahmadinejad, who insisted on competence as the prime criteria in choosing his mostly young ministers, appears to have complicated the deputies' task by submitting names that for some were totally unfamiliar.

He unveiled his cabinet Sunday with a mix of hardliners and more moderate conservatives for key positions. However, to fulfill his pledges of defending Islam and justice while fighting Iran's scourge of unemployment, Ahmadinejad appears to be turning towards hardliners.

The average age of the 21 ministers - no women or even traditional right wingers among them - is about 48 years, one year younger than the president himself.

Iranian women have reacted to the absence of female ministers in the cabinet.

"His cabinet is in contradiction to his previous statements promising to name a bipartisan, moderate and progressive cabinet for 70 million people (in reference to Iran's population and to one of Ahmadinejad's campaign slogans)," said Fatemeh Rakeie, a former reformist MP and chair of the Women's Commission of the leading reformist party - the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

"Moreover, not even one woman has been named to his cabinet. We expected at least one or two women to be included in the list as a sign of respect for one half of Iran's population."

But Ahmadinejad is focusing on other issues.

"The principal basis of my government's attitude is justice, which must be reflected in all the economic, cultural and social policies," He said as he met with the new cabinet team Sunday.

Speaking in an interview the same day, the president referred to solidarity among government members as the striking feature of the new cabinet.

"...A government having pious, clean, courageous, efficient and dedicated ministers will render the best service to the people and will pave the way for people's control over state affairs," he said, according to media reports.

In an apparent indication of keeping to his election campaign promises and in an attempt to reduce the current concerns on the performance of some of his cabinet members, Ahmadinejad signed an eight-clause agreement with the nominees before their names were submitted to parliament, according to the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.

The so-called 'anti-corruption' covenant emphasizes, among other things, on the need to avoid nepotism in selecting managers and outside economic activities and to sincerely serve the people.

"Once at the end of the one-year term, the objectives set by Ahmadinejad in the relevant ministry are materialized, the minister will be reappointed," one MP said, adding, "Otherwise he would have to be replaced."

However, what looks to be shared by a vast part of Iran's political spectrum -- from mainstream conservatives to moderates and reformists - is the dissatisfaction and lack of enthusiasm that exist over Ahmadinejad's proposed list.

Some analysts say the new president may have a difficult time in getting his cabinet approved by the legislature unless the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with whom usually the last word rests, endorses Ahmadinejad's submitted list prior to the start of the confirmation hearings over the weekend.

The parliament has already expressed concern about the qualification of most of the minister-designates, saying they are "political unknowns" lacking a distinguished and prominent career record.

Out of the 21 nominations, only two are seen with ministerial background.

Mohammad Rahmati, minister of Roads and Transport, is the only minister to survive from president Mohammad Khatami's cabinet and Mohammad Saeedi-Kia - the would-be minister of Housing and Urban Development - is known to have served in previous governments.

But Ahmadinejad, defending the team as being "respected by the Islamic system and the nation" believes that "new talents, thoughts, morale and determination should be allowed in the administration in running state affairs."

He has allocated political posts - such as the interior ministry, intelligence and culture - to fellow ultra-conservatives, while more-leaning technocrats have been appointed to head the oil and foreign ministries.

Ahmadinejad has named conservative MP Manouchehr Mottaki as foreign minister, while Ali Sa'eedloo, the president's successor as mayor of Tehran, has been appointed oil minister.

Mottaki has served as ambassador to Japan and Turkey and has strongly backed Iran's nuclear program, while Saeedloo is a relative unknown in Iranian politics with unproven skills in the industry, according to his critics.

A longtime confidant of the president, the 53-year-old Saeedloo takes over from Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, a technocrat who has held the post for the past eight years under Khatami.

Ahmadinejad made alleged corruption in the management of Iran's state-controlled oil industry a major issue in his election campaign and in Saeeddloo he has plumped for a trusty aide who served as his deputy for financial affairs in his previous job as mayor of Tehran.

Some MPs say the changes pledged by Ahmadinejad to take place in the oil ministry would not be materialized by his proposed list.

Former deputy intelligence minister and hardline cleric, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, was tipped to head the interior ministry.

Ahmadinejad chose another hardline cleric and former head of a strict religious tribunal, Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejehei, to head the intelligence ministry, while Hussein Saffar-Harandi, former deputy managing director and editor-in-chief of the ultra-conservative Kayhan newspaper, was proposed for the culture portfolio. Harandi served for years as a deputy commander and a political bureau chief in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Another member of the IRGC, who is meant to take up the post of defense minister, is Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar - a mechanical engineer by education but with a long record of service in the ideological army that was set up after the 1979 revolution to defend the clerical regime.

The biographies of the nominees indicate that eight would-be ministers are enjoying military- security-intelligence backgrounds.

While some MPs predict that among the proposed list, at least 7-8 ministers would fail, on disqualification grounds, to gain a vote of confidence, there are some others who believe the parliament will, in the end, approve Ahmadinejad's first proposed cabinet according to the normal procedure applied to the first governments proposed to former parliaments.

Observers, on the other hand, say, just in the same way Ahmadinejad's landslide victory and his list of nominations took many, inside and outside the country, by surprise, it is very likely that the confirmation process may yet produce more than a few surprises.

They quickly add that in light of the nuclear crisis and Iran's precarious international position, the cabinet will most likely be confirmed by the legislature.

At the same time, they say, one should not be surprised if the nominees for specialized ministries such as Oil, Health and Energy are confirmed with razor-thin margins.

The 49-year-old Ahmadinejad is the first non-cleric to hold Iran's presidency since 1981, a fact of little meaning to those who fear he is set to impose puritanical moral rules on Iran and put the country on a collision course with the West.

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