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    President Ahmadi-nejad forced to retreat by attacks from his right

    In one instance after another, Ahmadi-nejad has been pummeled—and in several cases he has retreated, which is not the norm for a man who seems to love a political brawl.

    There is talk that he may driven from office—but that appears to be mere talk. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenehi sees such actions as conveying instability. One Majlis deputy has told reporters that expulsion from office has already been ruled out—and only the Supreme Leader can rule that out.

    The biggest crunch this past week came over the vacant post of oil minister. Iran chairs the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Counties (OPEC) this year and whoever is Iran’s oil minister next month will chair the OPEC meeting then.

    Last week, Ahmadi-nejad named himself as the acting oil minister and officials let it be known he would be off to the June 8 OPEC session, where he would have a global platform for whatever he wished to say.

    But the 12-man Council of Guardians quickly ruled that Ahmadi-nejad could not legally become the acting minister under the Constitution’s Article 135. Its logic seemed strained; Article 135 just provides for the naming of acting ministers by the president for a maximum of three months. It doesn’t say anything about who can or cannot be an acting minister.

    Ahmadi-nejad was silent about the Council’s ruling; his staff continued to say he would chair the OPEC meeting. But after a few days, Ahmadi-nejad said Monday he would not go to the OPEC meeting. That was one concession.

    Next, news leaked out that a close friend and aide to the president, Hamid Baqai, had been convicted of misconduct and suspended from public office for four years by the Administrative Justice Court. The nature of the misconduct has not been described and many people suspect it is a political conviction targeting the president rather than Baqai.

    But the president didn’t take on this battle. Last Thursday, Ahmadi-nejad named Ruhollah Ahmadzadeh-Kermani to replace Baqai as head of the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO). That was another concession.

    Third, the president and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani have been squabbling over reducing the number of ministries from 21 to 17 as the law requires. Ahmadi-nejad announced a few weeks ago how he was combining eight ministries into four and named the ministers who would stay and those who would go.

    But Larijani said the president couldn’t do that. Larijani said Ahmadi-nejad had to submit his list of merged ministries to the Majlis for approval and then would have to nominate new ministers for the new merged ministries for Majlis approval. The Council of Guardians weighed in on the side of the Majlis.

    Ahmadi-nejad vocally attacked that interpretation. But senior Majlis deputies lined up rapidly against him and no major voice was heard to support his position.

    On Sunday, however, with no fanfare at all, Ahmadi-nejad delivered a proposal for merging the Transport Ministry with the Housing Ministry (forming a new Infrastructure Ministry) to the Majlis and submitted the name of Housing Minister Ali Nikzad for approval by the Majlis as the new minister of infrastructure. Ahmadi-nejad still hasn’t submitted plans for the other three pairs of merged ministries, but he has conceded on the principle. Concession Number Three.

    The president isn’t completely caving in. In fact, he has already picked up the cudgels for another fight. The law requires the president to publish all laws in the official gazette within five days after the law is sent to him. (An Iranian president does not have veto authority.) The new budget was sent to Ahmadi-nejad on May 14. It had not been published on May 21 and Speaker Larijani publicly called him on that. As of press time, that dispute was still in the air—but it seemed an odd issue on which to pick a fight since the president has no leg to stand on.

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