Both groups are striving for a majority in a parliament that can either obstruct or speed up initiatives by Ahmadinejad’s government. While the two factions together had formed a hugely influential bloc, monopolizing all major centers of power, a disagreement over the firing of the country’s intelligence chief last spring caused a final breakup after months of tension. Now clerics and commanders are accusing Ahmadinejad’s advisers of plotting to push them from power and reduce the role of Islam in the country.
The Ahmadinejad opponents swear fealty to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei’s own role is less clear: He had seemed to withdraw support for Ahmadinejad, but has not fully backed the president’s opponents, either.
“He is trying to balance both groups in order to prevent the fight from endangering the Islamic republic,” said one prominent politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The two sides have lately been engaged in bitter, public disputes, calling each other “tumors,” “sorcerers” and “thieves.” Some of Ahmadinejad’s advisers have been arrested by the judiciary — which is linked to his opponents — and influential religious leaders have called for the death of the president’s closest aide.
While both factions claim ownership of the 1979 Islamic revolution and its ideals, Ahmadinejad supporters say they are a new generation that wants to root out corruption caused by the old. “People power” is an important theme in their public statements.
“Faced with the will of the people and the revolution, [the opponents] are nothing,” said Ali Akbar Javanfekr, an unofficial spokesman for the president who is head of the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Ahmadinejad’s opponents, who have spent decades in key positions, accuse the president’s supporters of destroying Iran’s economy. They say a greater role for Islam is a solution to Iran’s problems.
“We must push forward with making everything more Islamic — the society, the economy, everything,” said Hamid Reza Taraghi, spokesman for the Islamic Engineers party, a group of merchants that plays a key role in the faction opposed to Ahmadinejad.
The clerics, commanders and merchants feel that in order to rein in Ahmadinejad’s power, they need to keep their majority in parliament after the March elections. This way, they hope, Ahmadinejad will slowly fade into oblivion once his term ends in 2013.
For the president, parliament could be a tool for extending his influence beyond that date.