June 10, 2008

THE GUARDIAN'S GUARD DOG:

Ahmadinejad Faces Heavyweight Foe in Larijani (Omid Memarian, 6/10/08, IPS)

This week, Iran's new speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, proposed forming two joint committees of the legislative and judiciary branches in an effort to reconcile new legislation with the Islamic penal code.

The step is viewed as part of Larinaji's enthusiasm to build strategic alliances within Iran's political establishment to enhance the stature of Parliament, which been criticised for a lack of independence and efficiency in the past four years.

Larijani is expected to be a serious critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the coming years. He has close ties to new technocrat leaders, such as the former head of the Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Rezaii, and the popular mayor of Tehran, Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf -- considered the leading potential rival of Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential elections.

Larijani is also one of the closest and most loyal politicians to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- who has reportedly called him "my son" in private gatherings -- and the traditional fundamentalist clergy. Over the past two decades, Larijani has held some of the highest appointed positions in the country, such as the supreme leader's representative on the National Security Council and Expediency Council. The position of speaker of Parliament is his first elected office.

Larijani is the son of a grand ayatollah and is son-in-law to Ayatollah Motahari, a cleric for whom Khamenei holds great respect. Over the past 20 years, he has maintained a close relationship with fundamentalist clergy, to the point where prior to running in the parliamentary elections, he visited many leading clerics in Qom, later stating that his candidacy was a direct result of their urging. [...]

In the 2004 elections, out of eight presidential candidates, Larijani came in seventh, but he never accepted Ahmadinejad as his boss, acting as though they were equals. For his part, Ahmadinejad was determined to take back Larijani's appointment to the National Security Council from the supreme leader. Perhaps Larijani realised too late that he may have acted hastily in accepting Khamenei's consolation prize for his failure in the elections.

Though Larijani never explicitly addressed his differences with Ahmadinejad in public, he was vociferous in attacking his policies in private. In the political atmosphere of Iran, this endeared Larijani to analysts and the public, somewhat mitigating the negative memories of his mismanagement of the nuclear negotiations.

What makes Larijani unpopular among most reformists and even some conservatives in Iran is his utter devotion to Khamenei. [...]

Larijani's presence in the Iranian Parliament while Ahmadinejad aspires to a second term has generated excitement in political circles. With skyrocketing oil revenues accompanied by out-of-control inflation rates, soaring costs of living and the international threats looming over the country, the Iranian Parliament will face growing pressure from Iranians to do something about Ahmadinejad's performance. This could lead to a rift between the government and parliament.

Larijani enjoys a strong political background and is generally a decisive and charismatic politician. When the fundamentalist majority representatives gathered to vote for their leadership, he won 160 of 227 votes, with former speaker Haddad Adel receiving only 50 votes.

At the same time, Larijani is known for his unquestionable obedience to the supreme leader, and depending on Khamenei's outlook and decisions, Larijani will not have a lot of room to manoeuvre. If the supreme leader orders a stop to Ahmadinejad's wasteful economic and political plans, however, Larijani is the man who will be capable of mobilising resistance in parliament.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2008 8:27 PM
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