Iran Prez Hold Shaky in Latest Challenge

More than a month after a presidential election that some called a "political earthquake," the ground is still shifting under disputed Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

His political moves have angered some conservatives, forcing a crack in the hard-line camp in that could threaten his hold on power. Tensions between conservatives siding with Ahmadinejad and others with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have raised the likelihood of a vote of confidence by Iran's parliament, which could cost Ahmadinejad his job.

This week Ahmadinejad dismissed his Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehei, perceived to be close to Khamenei, after a week of tension with the supreme leader over his choice of vice president. Ahmadinejad had appointed his relative, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, to the post, a move that angered some conservatives and led Khamenei to order the vice president's dismissal. When Ahmadinejad insisted on keeping him in place a letter from 200 parliament members, more than two-thirds of the body called on him to "correct his behavior [and] follow the leader's opinion seriously," according to local press reports.

Other conservatives expressed similar disapproval.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Ahmadinejad has failed in the practical test of being faithful to the supreme leader," wrote Iran's hardline newspaper Hizbollah on Monday.

"The eminent position of the supreme leader is not like a shelter which you can use whenever you need and disregard when it is against your personal interests! You have to know that Iranian Hizbollah will not easily forgive your disobedience to the supreme leader," the paper added.

Professor Mohammad Sahimi, an engineering professor and a political commentator at the University of Southern California, says the row may not have weakened Ahmadinejad immediately.

"In the power struggle I don't think this past week has weakened him. He has demonstrated that he can defy the supreme leader and fire people who are trusted by the supreme leader," said Sahimi.

"But in the public eye, his second term is illegitimate, or at the very least questionable. And it's very significant that there are conservative ayatollahs, loyal to the leadership in the past, who are expressing their disapproval of what's going on."

On Sunday, news emerged that Ahmadinejad had dismissed three other ministers. Labor Minister Mohammad Jahromi, Health Minister Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani, and Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad-Hassan Saffar-Harandi had reportedly objected to Ahmadinejad's disagreement with the supreme leader over his vice president. Their resignations put Ahmadinejad over a critical threshold – having changed more than half of his ministers since he took office in 2005, he would trigger an automatic vote of confidence by the parliament.

"Following the dismissal of two members of the cabinet and the possible sacking of two more, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government would lose legitimacy. In fact, the country would be placed in a situation of not having a government," wrote reformist newspaper E'temad.

After the initial announcements Ahmadinejad backtracked, saying the men had not been dismissed. They were still officially cabinet members, his government insisted, thereby avoiding the constitutional crisis. But questions remain over the firings and whether they will hold, making the less than two weeks before his inauguration a critical and potentially unstable period.

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