Iran begins debate over cabinet

Iran's new President Mahmood Ahmadinejad has presented his proposed cabinet to parliament, setting the stage for what could be hostile debate by the opposition.

    President Ahmadinejad spoke out against the West

    Parliamentarians have started to debate the merits of the nominees and are expected to approve or reject each of the 21 candidates by the end of Monday's session.

    In his speech before the Majlis, or parliament, Ahmadinejad spoke out against the West and liberalism and vowed to help create a culture that "promotes virtue and prohibits vice".

    "Currently we are importing from some countries billons of dollars, whereas they are not buying our oil and they are also not buying our products," said Ahmadinejad, who took office on 3 August.

    "These countries should be thankful to us because we are helping their economies boom, but they are not thankful and are looking at us as if we were indebted to them," he told the conservative-controlled assembly.

    Threats

    "The international community go so far as to condemn us. What sort of balance is this? This is injustice and oppression, and our nation will not accept this in international affairs."

    "The international community they go so far as to condemn us. What sort of balance is this?"

    Mahmood Ahmadinejad,
    Iranian president

    It was a reference to threats against Iran in the wake of the Islamic republic's decision to resume sensitive nuclear work. The clerical government has refused to return to a full freeze of nuclear fuel work - the focus of fears the country is seeking atomic weapons.

    The speech to parliament, carried live on state television and radio, opened a debate of several days on Ahmadinejad's proposed 21-member cabinet. Although right-wingers dominate the assembly, the procedure may not be a mere formality.

    Of those nominated, only two have previously held ministerial posts, and the others are mostly unknowns - even to conservative legislators who dominate the Majlis.

    Appointments

    The president has allocated political posts - such as the Interior Ministry, intelligence and culture - to fellow ultra-conservatives, while technocrats have been appointed to head the oil and foreign ministries.

    Since Ahmadinejad announced his team this month, eyebrows have been raised over some nominees' qualifications. But Iran's all-powerful leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has given his backing to Ahmadinejad's line-up.

    The cabinet was presented to a
    conservative-dominated parliament

    "I support Ahmadinejad and his government, and I hope the president and the Majlis will complete their legal duty with cooperation and understanding and that the new administration is in place as soon as possible," Khamenei said in his sermon on Friday. 

    Meanwhile, foreign investors will be looking at the fate of acting Tehran Mayor Ali Saeedlou, who has been nominated as oil minister of the world's fourth-biggest crude producer.

    Opposition criticism

    Ahmadinejad had no doubts he had found the right men.

    "We have gone through three separate screenings to appoint strong, brave, expert, efficient, pure and popular people as ministers," he told lawmakers at the start of the debate.

    Several lawmakers have accused Saeedlou of lacking the experience needed to manage OPEC's second-biggest exporter but Ahmadinejad recommended him as as a strong manager.

    "He has a degree in geology and is familiar with exploration, which is the most important issue in oil. And since he has a background in trade organisations, he seems the appropriate person for the ministry," he said.

    Conservative parliamentarians, whose faction was ignored in the cabinet list, also criticised the choice for the education ministry. Lawmaker Mahmoud Abtahi was the first to speak in opposition.

    "There is a discrepancy between these ministers and Mr. Ahmadinejad's programmes," he told parliament.

    The debate over the cabinet list will prove a test of unity for Iran's conservative camp that now controls all power blocks in the Islamic Republic after reformists were trounced in parliamentary and presidential elections.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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