Far larger than life, images of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fill screens
perched above Iran's cavernous parliament chamber where the
archconservative president has come to make a pitch for his two new
The replacements are "pious men" and it's his right as "coach of
the team" to make adjustments, he tells the lawmakers.
The legislators offer exasperated criticism about the president's
endless supply of new candidates - he has seeded like-minded
ideologues at all levels of government - and his easy readiness to
topple ministers. But on this day last month, they relent.
No Iranian president in recent memory has faced so much scathing
and frequent attack from so many Iranian factions, or created so
many powerful enemies, over issues that range from his imperious
management style and eclectic economic policies, to snooty gibes
from elite critics about lack of "intellectualism," analysts say.
But despite the criticism, Mr. Ahmadinejad's bold political moves
have succeeded in increasing the power of his office, turning it
into a post with more influence and power than at any time since
Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
"Ahmadinejad just broke all the rules," says an Iranian
journalist who asked not to be named. "Whatever he does, he's always
giving orders, giving commands - it projects an image of power."
"He's bold and idiosyncratic. He's not afraid of using
unconventional methods," says a political analyst in Tehran. "All
the presidents before now were consulting with [Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Sayyed Ali] Khamenei on major issues, but he doesn't feel
the need to do this.
"He has made the presidency much more powerful, but made a mess
with his power - administrative chaos, and allocating economic
resources," says the analyst of the president's performance.
"Because of pressure from outside he [believes] himself invincible."
But with the exception of the supreme leader - who in recent
months has signaled both unconditional support and weariness with an
irrepressible president - Ahmadinejad has few loyal backers among
traditional power centers.
In large part, gushing oil revenues have helped mask
overspending, mismanagement by inexperienced top-level appointees,
and the impact of two sets of US-led United Nations sanctions over
Iran's nuclear program.
Experts say that Khamenei is now convinced - if he was not
already - that Ahmadinejad's unbending stance on continuing uranium
enrichment has borne fruit, despite a UN Security Council resolution
demanding it stop.
Little organized opposition
The president's hard-line allies were punished in local elections
last December. And a parliamentary vote next March may roll back the
conservative majority. But there is still little organized
opposition. And as powerful rivals begin positioning themselves for
those votes - including the next presidential election in 2009 -
Ahmadinejad has gone on the counterattack, calling opponents of his
nuclear policies "traitors."
"The power of the presidency is limited in Iran, according to the
law, and the term of the president is limited," says Amir Mohebian,
political editor of the conservative Resalat newspaper. "[But] Mr.
Ahmadinejad tried to concentrate powers inside his own hand [and]
uses the opportunities of the presidency more than any president
"Before this, I thought Ahmadinejad is not an experienced
politician. But he has shown he knows well the functions of power,"
says Mr. Mohebian. "Every act he takes now is for the next
election.... Mr. Ahmadinejad wants to show himself as very strong,
the boss, and unpredictable. Maybe this makes Mr. Ahmadinejad a
threat for everyone inside and outside [Iran], but it can help [him]
be more strong."
The coup de grace that has still unsettled Iran's political
establishment was the resignation - or forced removal - of chief
nuclear negotiator and Khamenei protege Ali Larijani. …