Despite Domestic Waves, Iran Will Keep Its President

Article excerpt

Tehran and Iranian opposition websites in recent weeks are rife with rumors that the regime is about to replace ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Such allegations feature claims that the new president was rebuffed when he tried to meet with regime stalwarts, such as the head of the country's wealthiest religious foundation, and when he sought guidance from leading mainstream clerics.

Contributing to the speculation on official displeasure with Mr. Ahmadinejad was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's grant of executive branch oversight powers in October to the Expediency Council, a state agency headed by Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi- Rafsanjani, who lost the 2005 presidential race to Ahmadinejad.

If the speculations prove true, Ahmadinejad would not be the first Iranian president to be removed from office. The Islamic republic's first president, Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, was elected in January 1980 and kicked out in June 1981. Indeed, there are parallels between the circumstances facing Ahmadinejad and the situation that confronted Mr. Bani-Sadr. For Bani-Sadr the international environment was difficult because of the Iran-Iraq War and the hostage crisis, while Ahmadinejad must contend with global concern over his country's nuclear program, its support for terrorist organizations, and his belligerent foreign policy declarations. On the domestic front, Islamic fundamentalists who were consolidating power in the revolutionary government competed with Bani-Sadr, while Ahmadinejad faces rivalry both from an older generation of conservatives and from pro-reform political organizations.

In 1981, the Iranian parliament declared Bani-Sadr incompetent because of his continuing disputes with his rivals, thereby opening the door to his impeachment. The founder of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, gave him a chance to repent, but Bani- Sadr rejected it. Mr. Khomeini then used his constitutional right to dismiss the president, who fled to France.

Ahmadinejad's relationship with the parliament is troubled as well. Legislators rejected four of his initial 21 cabinet nominees in August, and in early November the nominee for petroleum minister withdrew when faced with intense criticism of his inexperience and his wealth. …