TEHRAN, Iran – Dozens of Iranian lawmakers have signed a petition seeking to make Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the first president to be summoned for questioning since the Islamic Revolution 32 years ago.
However the challenge looks unlikely to succeed because the numbers fall short of the constitutional requirement that at least one-fourth of the 290 parliament members must sign the petition before the president can be questioned.
Still it was a reminder that Ahmadinejad, one of the most polarizing leaders on the international scene, also faces deep dissent within his own country and even within his own conservative political camp. However, his position appears secure as long as he continues to have the support of the country's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the elite Revolutionary Guard forces. With Khamenei's strong support for the president, it is unlikely that enough lawmakers would sign the petition.
Ali Motahari, a hardline lawmaker behind the petition, says Iran's tensions with the outside world and its domestic woes will not stop lawmakers from taking the president to account.
"I don't believe that questioning (the president) will cause tension. Our people should know that putting questions to the president is a right of lawmakers. Perhaps the president's explanations will convince the parliament," a reformist news website, aftabnews.ir news, quoted Motahari as saying Wednesday.
Iranian lawmakers, including conservatives, have complained in the past about being sidelined in key decisions by Ahmadinejad over issues such as foreign policy and strategic economic planning.
Those behind the petition want Ahmadinejad to respond to a long list of accusations. They include making statements that damage parliament, refusing to carry out laws enacted by parliament, withdrawing money from the central bank without proper authorization. They also accuse him of lack of transparency on budget spending.
Ahmadinejad portrayed himself as a champion of the poor when he first swept to power in 2005, promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty, improve living standards and tackle unemployment. Both conservatives and reform-minded politicians have been increasingly challenging him over his failure to meet those promises.
Reformists and even some fellow 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 government is still coping with the consequences of a massive bloody confrontation with protesters and is still being challenged by the opposition that claims Ahmadinejad won the June 2009 presidential elections through massive vote fraud.
Iran is at odds with the U.S. and other Western countries over its disputed nuclear program, which some suspect is geared toward producing weapons. Iran denies this. Iran is also holding two Americans in prison for more than a year on charges of spying and illegal border crossing, which the U.S. says are fabrications.
Motahari, one of the critics of Ahmadinejad from within his own conservative political circles, says he has collected more than 50 signatures but won't reveal the names because they could be put under government pressure. Other Iranian websites reported only 40 had signed.
But the official IRNA news agency, which reflects the government's position, quoted lawmaker Mahmoud Ahmadi Biqash as saying Wednesday that several of those who signed the petition have already withdrawn their signature.
The petition to question is not a move to impeach the president. However, formal parliamentary questioning would weaken Ahmadinejad and could then pave the way for his subsequent impeachment and removal from power.
Many lawmakers oppose questioning the president, saying it will further weaken the government and may harm Iran's interests at a time the country is preparing for a new round of talks with world powers over its nuclear program.
Conservative lawmaker Ali Reza Zakani said lawmakers had every right to question the president but such a motion was harmful because it may weaken the government which is on the verge of implementing a major economic plan to slash energy and food subsidies.
"The country is on the verge of the big project of a smart subsidy plan. Therefore, the priority should be to promote cooperation," Zakani was quoted by several news websites as saying.
Motahari, the brains behind the motion, said lawmakers will wait for the government to enforce the subsidy cut plan first before summoning Ahmadinejad for questioning. That means any possible questioning of the president is months away.
Iran's economic woes have been one of Ahmadinejad's biggest challenges and his critics say he has recklessly squandered Iran's oil windfall on costly, subsidized imports while failing to take any needed reforms. Iran is one of the world's leading oil producers.