TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's parliament dismissed a Cabinet minister Tuesday over his fake degree from Oxford University, a vote seen as a humiliating blow to hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who faces elections next summer.
The Iranian leader has been at odds with the parliament before, but the impeachment of Interior Minister Ali Kordan was the first high-profile confrontation between the president and the 290-member assembly. It was a further sign that Ahmadinejad's presidency, already facing criticism over the economy, could be in trouble.
Many Ahmadinejad allies and hard-liners joined the opposition in voting 188-45 in favor of the removal, which went into effect immediately.
The case turned into a parliament drama last week, when a government official purportedly tried to pay legislators not to vote to oust Kordan.
A hard-line lawmaker slapped the official, Mohammad Abbasi, on the face. Ahmadinejad then dismissed Abbasi, but some lawmakers suggested the payment would not have been attempted without orders from higher up.
Ahmadinejad is expected to run in June for a second term. But the months ahead are critical if he wants to try to rebut critics who point to his unfulfilled campaign promises of improving the lives of ordinary Iranians and bringing oil revenues to the poorer parts of the country.
The ouster of Kordan, whose office is in charge of holding elections and local administrations in Iran, brings to 10 the number of Cabinet ministers who have been removed over the last three years.
Under Iran's constitution, one more dismissal will mean Ahmadinejad's Cabinet will face a confidence vote in the parliament. Lawmakers have already hinted that they are considering the impeachment of the agriculture and education ministers.
Kordan's resume was questioned during his confirmation debate in August, when several lawmakers argued he was unqualified for the post and claimed his Oxford degree was a fake. He was approved by a relatively slim margin, reflecting those concerns.
He supported the degree's authenticity providing a certificate, dated June 2000 and imprinted with an Oxford seal. But the document, written in English, was riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes.
It was only after Oxford denied awarding him an honorary doctorate of law that Kordan admitted the degree was not real. Ahmadinejad defended Kordan, shrugging off degrees in general as "torn paper," unnecessary for serving the people.
The Iranian president has come under attack from both reformers and conservatives, who brought him to power, both sides complaining he spends too much time on fiery anti-U.S. rhetoric rather than managing the country.
Ahmadinejad's power has been further threatened by the election of conservative rival Ali Larijani as speaker of parliament and the formation of a powerful parliamentary bloc, which includes supporters-turned-critics, that opposes his confrontational manner and handling of the ailing economy.
At the same time, middle-class Iranians, dismayed by plummeting living standards, often scorn Ahmadinejad's economic naivetDe.
In July, Ahmadinejad predicted oil prices would never fall below $100 per barrel, rhetoric proved wrong by the global financial crisis and falling oil prices. On Tuesday, Iran crude was selling below $60.
Under Ahmadinejad, Iran has suffered international isolation, skyrocketing prices and threats, from the U.S. and Israel, of military strikes to halt Iran's nuclear program, which the West fears masks a nuclear weapons project. Iran denies the charge.
During the proceedings, Kordan defended himself, saying his impeachment was a conspiracy by foreign enemies, including the U.S. and Israel, and complained of heavy media propaganda from abroad.
But lawmakers rejected the defense as irrelevant to the issue of his fake degree.
Lawmaker Bijan Nobaveh, a conservative, asserted Kordan has no degree from any university, including Iranian ones. Fellow conservative lawmaker Reza Akrami said Kordan was a "victim of his own dishonesty."