TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced criticism from some lawmakers on Wednesday for nominating as his new science minister an official who helped organize June’s disputed election.
Kamran Daneshjou, who ran the Interior Ministry’s election headquarters during the presidential poll, will be in charge of universities and other higher education issues if the assembly approves him as new science, research and technology minister.
Parliament, which must approve each of the 21 ministers in the hardline president’s next cabinet, had been expected to vote on the nominees on Wednesday but it was delayed until Thursday after four days of at times heated debate.
“We need to vote on the proposed ministers by noon tomorrow (0730 GMT),” Speaker Ali Larijani told the assembly.
The election, which was followed by huge opposition protests, plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The moderate opposition says it was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Officials deny it.
“Considering the heat in the society after the presidential election, there are doubts whether the nomination of Mr Daneshjou will help to cool down the society or whether it increases the heat,” said MP Mohammad-Qassim Osmani.
Another MP critical of Daneshjou’s nomination, Amin Shabani, told the assembly: “The question is whether the university environment will accept a renowned political and security figure like you as a scientific figure?”
Others defended the candidacy of Daneshjou, who was a deputy interior minister in Ahmadinejad’s outgoing cabinet, and praised his academic qualifications.
Parliament’s verdict on the cabinet is seen as a test of Ahmadinejad’s hold on power in the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter after the election, which exposed deep rifts within the clerical and political establishment.
Some deputies have criticized several ministerial nominees for lacking the necessary background for their new posts, including proposed Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, Education Minister Sousan Keshavarz and others.
Ahmadinejad’s pick for interior minister, current Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, told the assembly his aim would be to develop Iran’s “political health.”
But MP Jamshid Ansari, one of two deputies who spoke against his nomination, said: “Mr Najjar does not have enough knowledge about the duties of the Interior Ministry.”
In accordance with parliament rules, two lawmakers also spoke in favor of Najjar, who like several other candidates have a background with the elite Revolutionary Guards, whose influence has grown since Ahmadinejad came to power.
The legislature is dominated by conservatives, but some of Ahmadinejad’s supporters have abandoned him since the election.
Analysts believe the cabinet will eventually be approved, but a stormy process could damage Ahmadinejad politically at a time when Iran is also embroiled in a row with the West over its nuclear program. The United States suspects Iran aims to build an atomic arsenal, but Tehran says its aims are peaceful.
If parliament were to reject some ministers, Ahmadinejad would have three months to put forward new candidates, but the cabinet could still start working with caretaker ministers.
Four years ago, the assembly voted against four of his first-choice nominees, including the oil minister.
Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Hemming