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Ahmadinejad seeks parliament’s nod

Iran's embattled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose disputed re-election unleashed the worst crisis in the Islamic republic's history, yesterday began seeking a vote of confidence from parliament on his new cabinet.
Iran's conservative-dominated parliament commenced a session for lawmakers to debate on the cabinet nominees chosen by Ahmadinejad.
Over the next three days, the parliament will debate ministerial nominees and then vote on Wednesday.
"The great presence of Iranian people in the election has put a confirmed seal on the performance of the government in the last four years and they want this path to continue," Ahmadinejad said in his speech to lawmakers ahead of the debate.
"The government is more determined to come forward for serving the people using its full resources. We are committed to spreading justice, preserving the national dignity, achieve progress and confront the bullying powers. We will continue to support oppressed nations and cooperate constructively with all nations except the Zionist regime," he said referring to arch-foe Israel.
Media reports say the debate is expected to be stormy, with Ahmadinejad facing a daunting task in securing a mandate for his line-up, including several new faces, among them three women – a first in the Islamic republic.
"We hope in the following friendly sessions the members will hold the debates with dignity and patience and pursue the matter with Islamic ethics. The majlis will provide ample time for both sides to present their cases," speaker Ali Larijani said as he opened yesterday's session.
The vote of confidence comes as Iran is gripped in political turmoil after Ahmadinejad's re-election triggered massive street protests which left about 30 people dead and shook the pillars of the Islamic regime.
On Friday, speaking at Tehran university during the weekly Muslim prayers, Ahmadinejad urged parliament to trust his nominees.
"I feel the cabinet will be one that is strong, consistent, popular, clean and ready to serve people. I ask the parliament to trust their friend and brother and leave the question of cabinet's efficiency to the president," he said.
Ahmadinejad is under fire from his own hardline camp over several decisions he took soon after his re-election, and MPs are furious at him for not consulting them over the nominees.
He has retained five ministers from his existing cabinet in the same capacity in the new line-up, including foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Current defence minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar has been nominated as the next interior minister and commerce minister Masoud Mirkazemi was Ahmadinejad's pick for the oil ministry of OPEC's second largest crude exporter.
However, Mirkazemi is expected to be rejected because of his lack of expertise in the crucial sector, media reports said. He was also nearly impeached during the current term over rising prices of basic commodities.
The three female nominees are also expected to face an uphill task as some clerics have questioned the managerial abilities of women.
"Islam respects women, but respecting women does not mean that heavy social positions be given to them," hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami said on Saturday.
Sousan Keshvaraz, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi and Fatemeh Ajorlou have been proposed respectively as ministers of education, health, and welfare and social security.
Ajorlou is controversial as she was prosecuted for supporting Abbas Palizdar, who was jailed for accusing several senior clerics, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and their children of corruption.
Keshavarz and Ajorlou are seen as lacking executive experience.
Yesterday, Ahmadinejad said the presence of women in the cabinet line-up has raised the "self-confidence" of women in Iran and triggered "jubilation among Iranian women."
"The government has fulfilled its task by selecting efficient women and I hope the majlis will help the government in completing the job it has started."
Influential MP Mohammad Reza Bahonar has predicted that four to five men and the women nominees will fail to convince the lawmakers.
Several MPs accuse the president, whose proposed government has already been rejected by reformists and opposition groups, of selecting nominees who completely "submit" themselves to him.
"The president wants to be the ruler in sensitive ministries of intelligence, interior, culture, oil and foreign. So he has introduced people whose major quality is that they are yes-men," prominent MP Ali Motahari said last week.
Ahmadinejad's choice of Ahmad Vahidi as next defence minister has also been controversial after an outcry in Argentina, where he is wanted for the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a Jewish community centre that killed 85 people.
In 2007, Interpol distributed to its 187 member countries an Argentine warrant for Vahidi's arrest.
Lawmakers also doubt defence minister Najjar's credentials to be the new interior minister given his military background.