TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s parliament voted on Wednesday in favor of taking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to court over what lawmakers say is a violation of the country’s constitution stemming from the president’s move last month to declare himself caretaker oil minister.
The vote in the conservative-dominated assembly is its latest action against Ahmadinejad since the president in April publicly challenged Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
That challenge was triggered by Ahmadinejad’s attempt to sack the powerful intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, a move Khamenei blocked. Although Ahmadinejad publicly backed down in the confrontation with Khamenei weeks later, it emboldened his hard-line rivals in parliament.
And last month, Ahmadinejad incurred the wrath of the Guardian Council — Iran’s constitutional watchdog body — when he sacked Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi under a Cabinet reshuffle plan and declared himself caretaker oil minister.
The confrontations appear to be part of a power struggle ahead of parliamentary elections next year and the vote for Ahmadinejad’s successor in mid-2013.
It’s unclear whether Wednesday’s vote in the 290-member parliament will actually be followed by charges or a a lawsuit against Ahmadinejad, but it clearly pits the majority of the lawmakers against the president.
The legislators voted 165-1 to refer Ahmadinejad to the country’s judiciary after a parliament committee report concluded his action in taking over the oil ministry was an “obvious violation of the constitution.” Remaining lawmakers were either absent or abstained from the vote.
Lawmakers were upset after Ahmadinejad last month restructured the Cabinet by combining eight ministries into four without seeking the lawmakers’ approval. The president has the power to dismiss ministers and put caretakers in place for up to three months without parliament’s approval.
But when Ahmadinejad declared himself caretaker oil minister, the lawmakers said it was an illegal move, some even alleging the president sought personal control of Iran’s most moneymaking body. Iran also holds the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ rotating presidency this year.
“This illegal and hasty action will damage the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests on the global level,” the parliament committee report said. “As (caretaker) oil minister, Ahmadinejad has issued and will continue to issue orders that are obviously illegal interference.”
In another sign of the lawmakers’ confrontation with the president, about 50 legislators have signed a petition to summon Ahmadinejad to appear in parliament to answer questions. At least a fourth of the lawmakers have to sign before a president can be questioned. If successful, it would be the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that a president is forced to answer questions before the Iranian assembly.
Those behind the petition want Ahmadinejad to respond to a long list of accusations, including refusing to carry out laws passed by parliament, withdrawing money from state funds without authorization and his alleged lack of transparency on budget spending.