DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has appeared in parliament for an unprecedented grilling by lawmakers dissatisfied with his performance, Iranian media reported on Wednesday.
Ahmadinejad was accompanied by a number of cabinet ministers to the special session, state news agency IRNA said, after being summoned last month by a group of hostile MPs.
He is the first president to be summoned by parliament in the history of the Islamic Republic.
The president has been widely accused of wasting resources on government handouts and critics say his withdrawal of food and fuel subsidies has resulted in rampant inflation.
Traditionalist factions have been trying to summon the president for months over his government’s handling of the economy and his challenging supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s reinstatement of the intelligence minister who Ahmadinejad had sacked.
Responding to a question about his absence, the president was quoted by IRNA as saying: “This is one of those things. Ahmadinejad staying home and resting. Some of my friends have repeatedly told me to rest. In this government, work has never been stopped for even a day.”
The president played down the historic significance of the session, saying it was the parliament’s right and not out of the ordinary.
“I was ready to answer questions before the election,” he said, referring to recent parliamentary polls. “But I thought it might have an impact on election results and then I would be blamed for it. I am the easiest to blame,” he said.
He was also accused of botching the financing of the extension to the Tehran metro system and quizzed on the veracity of government figures showing 1.6 million jobs were created in 2009 and 2010.
Attacks against Ahmadinejad have been partly fuelled by a rift between him and Khamenei that became public last year.
Khamenei loyalists began undermining the presidency by accusing Ahmadinejad’s advisers of challenging the supreme leader and threatening the foundations of the Islamic Republic.
The president’s standing was further damaged in a parliamentary election this month that was dominated by candidates supporting Khamenei.
The theocratic nation’s first president, Abolhassan Banisadr, was impeached in 1981 and fled the country after being accused of threatening Iran’s new religious foundations.
Editing by Louise Ireland