TEHRAN — Iran’s parliament voted Sunday to impeach the country’s labor minister, the ninth minister from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet to be dismissed during the president’s second term in office.
The proceedings Sunday represent a dramatic escalation in the long-standing power struggle between Ahmadinejad and the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani.
In Sunday’s vote, 192 of 272 parliament members voted in favor of impeaching Labor Minister Abdul-Reza Sheikholeslami over his decision to make Iran’s former general prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, the head of the country’s social security fund. The move, the articles of impeachment said, was “against the expediency of the country, unlawful and against the interests of 33 million workers under this fund.”
Mortazavi was removed from the judiciary over his alleged role in the deaths of protesters held in custody after Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 reelection.
The impeachment of Sheikholeslami puts the Ahmadinejad government dangerously close to forcing a vote of approval for the entire cabinet, which would almost certainly result in the removal of the president’s preferred ministers. Iran’s constitution states that if a majority of cabinet ministers are removed during a president’s term, the parliament must vote to reapprove the entire cabinet.
Larijani and one of his five brothers head two of Iran’s three branches of government, the parliament and the judiciary, positions they have used to thwart the populist Ahmadinejad. There is wide speculation that the best-known of the Larijani brothers, the parliament speaker, will make a second bid for the presidency when Ahmadinejad completes his final term in June.
In an address to parliament at the Sunday hearing that was broadcast on state radio, Ahmadinejad said, “As the president, I’ve come here today to defend the constitution.” He went on to accuse the speaker, Larijani, of overstepping his power as Iran’s top lawmaker. “Tell people that the president you have selected is under the power of the speaker of the parliament,” Ahmadinejad said.
The president then spoke of a video in his possession that he said showed Larijani’s younger brother Fazel attempting to make illegal financial deals with Mortazavi. Ahmadinejad said he had given a copy of the video to parliament for its review.
Larijani responded harshly to Ahmadinejad’s accusations, saying, “The difference between you and I is that you have gathered people around yourself who have charges against them in court and you insist on keeping them and giving them positions, while I say if any one of my relatives has a legal problem, we must investigate it, even if the person is my brother.” Larijani’s brother Sadegh heads Iran’s judiciary.
Ahmadinejad and Larijani said they would hold news conferences Sunday evening, but the plans were canceled.