Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was publicly humiliated Monday when Iran's supreme leader smacked down the president's decision not to implement a law supplying natural gas to remote villages.
The move by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came amid rising dissatisfaction with the president’s performance. Ahmadinejad's popularity has plummeted amid rising food prices and deaths due to gas cuts during a particularly harsh winter.
In response to a request by the conservative-dominated parliament, Khamenei ordered the president to implement a law spending $1 billion from the Currency Reserve Fund to supply gas to villages after he balked for budgetary reasons.
“All legal legislation that has gone through (the required) procedures stipulated in the constitution is binding for all branches of power,” Parliamentary Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel quoted the supreme leader as saying in a statement.
Haddad Adel called Ahmadinejad’s refusal to implement the law “surprising” and said his appeal to Khamenei was aimed at “defending the dignity of the legislature.” His comments, which were broadcast live on state-run radio, prompted chants of “well done” from the chamber.
Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. He now faces increasing criticism for failing to meet those promises.
Iran has the second largest natural gas reservoir of the world but its supply network has been overwhelmed by high demand. Both reformists and conservatives are increasingly asking the president why Iranians are dying from the cold while sitting on the massive gas fields.
As much as 22 inches of snow fell in areas of northern and central Iran in early January, the heaviest snowfall in more than a decade. Local media have reported 64 cold-related deaths this winter and say gas cuts are to blame.
State Inspection Organization chief, Mohammad Niazi, said Monday that Ahmadinejad’s administration ignored suggestions to set aside gas supplies in case of an emergency, the official IRNA news agency reported Monday.
“Earlier, (we) had warned executive officials about saving fuel but unfortunately warnings were not heeded ... there is no strategy for gas supply in the country,” he said.
Ahmadinejad, who portrayed himself as a champion of the poor when he swept to power, is being challenged not only by reformers but by the same conservatives who paved the way for his victory in 2005.
Even conservatives say Ahmadinejad has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. speeches and not enough on the economy — and they have become more aggressive in calling him to account.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.