TEHRAN Iran's parliament has revived its threat to call in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for questioning, with more lawmakers signing a summons that could ultimately lead to the president's impeachment, media reported on Monday.
Less than a week after the legislature dropped a four-month-old motion to summon Ahmadinejad, enough members of parliament have signed the paper to force him to appear.
"Plan to question Ahmadinejad back on track with increased signatures," ran the front page headline on Siasat-e Rouz daily which, like most newspapers, led with the story that shows a serious internal political rift is far from healed.
The conservative-dominated parliament first looked set to issue the unprecedented summons in June when 100 of its 290 members signed the motion -- amid growing criticism of Ahmadinejad's policies and what many lawmakers see as his overbearing attitude and disrespect for the legislature.
But, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for unity among the branches of power, parliament's presiding board held back from issuing the summons until enough lawmakers had removed their signatures to make it invalid.
To take effect this time, the motion must still be passed on to the president by the presiding board.
Prominent conservative lawmaker and long-time Ahmadinejad critic Ali Motahari tendered his resignation in protest at parliament's refusal to issue the summons.
That seemed to embolden his colleagues and with the additional support there are now 74 signatures, Sharq daily said, one more than the 73 needed to make it valid, according to parliament's website.
"The presiding board's move to suspend the case was somehow illegal ... and it upset the lawmakers," parliamentarian Sharif Hosseini was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
Parliament has often been hostile to Ahmadinejad but upped the pressure in April when he attempted to sack the intelligence minister who plays a key role in overseeing elections, a move that was blocked by a rare intervention by Khamenei.
Hardliners accuse Ahmadinejad of being in the thrall of a "deviant current" of advisers seeking to undermine the authority of the clergy in the Islamic Republic's system of government. They have also accused some of his aides of being involved in a $2.6 billion bank fraud that is still under investigation.
Eleven lawmakers signed a petition calling on the judiciary to investigate five key officials in the case, including Ahmadinejad's closest aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie and Central bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani, Etemad daily reported.
Analysts say Khamenei may be happy to have a weakened Ahmadinejad but does not want to risk the upheaval of him being forced out of office with less than two years of his term left.
Khamenei has suggested that in future Iran could scrap the position of a directly elected presidency and have the head of government elected by parliament -- something which critics say could weaken Iran's version of democracy.
Motahari said calling Ahmadinejad for questions should not be seen as an assault on Iran's governing system.
"This move will bring more understanding between government and parliament ... All things considered, it will be in the interests of the system," he told a news conference on Monday, according to the ISNA news agency.
Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has called on Ahmadinejad to attend a parliamentary session on Tuesday where Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini will face questions as part of a possible impeachment -- another front in the fight between the legislature and executive.
(Writing by Mitra Amiri and Robin Pomeroy, editing by Rosalind Russell)