"Black Sunday" in the Majles: unprecedented confrontation between president, Majles speaker
A Majles session to impeach Labor and Welfare Minister Abdolreza Sheykholeslami, held on Sunday, February 3, led to an unprecedented confrontation between President Ahmadinejad and Majles Speaker Ali Larijani. The confrontation reflects the failure of the efforts made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to mitigate the differences of opinion between the heads of Iran’s three branches of government and is evidence of the heightened tension at the top levels of the regime just months before the presidential elections.
The president, the Majles speaker, and the “hot tape”
At the end of a session held this past Sunday, the Iranian Majles impeached the minister of labor and welfare over the appointment of Sa’id Mortazavi, Tehran’s former prosecutor general, as director of the Social Security Organization. The appointment provoked a political and public storm due to Mortazavi’s involvement in an incident that took place at the Kahrizak detention facility. The facility was closed down in the summer of 2009 on the Supreme Leader’s orders in the wake of reports that a number of detainees had died there as a result of torture and abuse.
During the Majles session, the president gave a speech in which he defended the minister. Ahmadinejad presented to the Majles members a tape recording of a call between Mortazavi and Fazel Larijani, the brother of Majles Speaker Ali Larijani and Sadegh Larijani, chief of the judiciary. According to the president, the approximately 25-minute tape is part of over 24 hours of recorded calls between Mortazavi and Larijani, and is allegedly proof of Larijani’s involvement in economic corruption. During his conversation with Mortazavi, Larijani tried to convince him to support the economic activity of a businessman who wanted to acquire companies with links to the Social Security Organization, the president said. Larijani was even said to have insinuated that, in exchange for the support, he would take advantage of his brother’s influence to remove blocks that hinder economic activity having to do with the organization.
The president’s speech provoked one of the most extreme uproars to have taken place in the Majles in the past several years. In response to Ahmadinejad’s remarks, he was strongly condemned by Ali Larijani, speaker of the Majles, who accused him of immoral conduct. The tape presented by the president, Larijani said, has nothing to do with the discussion on the labor and welfare minister’s impeachment, and if the president has complaints against his brother, he should address them to the judiciary.
Larijani claimed that, in the morning of the session, he had been approached by the vice president of parliament affairs who threatened him that, unless he removed the minister’s impeachment from the Majles’ agenda, Ahmadinejad would expose the tape that he had. Larijani replied that the president was welcome to do so, and that he had no intention of removing the issue from the agenda. He said that it was a mafia-type behavior and accused Ahmadinejad of immoral conduct.
The Majles speaker added that he also had sensitive information, but that he didn’t see fit to expose it to avoid polarizing the political atmosphere. He said that even the president’s brother, Davud Ahmadinejad, had admitted to him during a meeting the two had that the president’s allies from the “deviant faction” (affiliated with Ahmadinejad’s controversial former office chief Rahim Masha’i) cooperate with the opposition organization Mojahedeen-e Khalq, are involved in corruption scandals, and have links to foreign elements. Larijani went on to say that the president had done well to present the tape to the Majles members, because the Iranian public now has a better understanding of his personality. At the end of Larijani’s speech the president asked to comment on his remarks. Larijani refused the request and said that he had already given Ahmadinejad ample time to address the Majles members.
Shortly after the heated confrontation in the Majles, the Majles speaker and the president announced their intention to convene a special press conference to discuss the events of the day. Eventually they both reconsidered, which may have had to do with an intervention from the Supreme Leader’s office.
In response to the president’s accusations, Fazel Larijani, the former cultural attaché at the Iranian embassy in Canada, said that he intends to file a complaint against Ahmadinejad for spreading lies. He categorically rejected the allegations, saying that his meeting with Mortazavi was held on Mortazavi’s own initiative. He referred to the president’s accusations as a conspiracy intended to let Mortazavi clear himself of the allegations that were made against him, and announced his intention to comment on the claims made by Ahmadinejad at a press conference which he will convene later this week (Fars, February 3).
A “black day” that pleases Iran’s enemies
The bitter confrontation in the Majles shortly became the main topic of concern for media in Iran. The media, affiliated mostly with the president’s critics, strongly condemned the events that took place in the Majles and put most of the responsibility for the outbreak of the confrontation on Ahmadinejad. The media stressed a statement made several months ago by the Supreme Leader, who had warned the heads of the three branches of the government not to express their differences of opinion in public, and said that those who openly announce such differences of opinion before the citizens are traitors to their country.
The Asr-e Iran website accused the president of an illegal attempt to intimidate the Majles speaker by threatening to expose information pertaining to his brother to foil the Majles’ intention to impeach the labor and welfare minister. The website said that the tape presented by the president was completely incomprehensible, and that if it did contain proof of the allegations he made against Fazel Larijani, he would have brought a better quality tape (Asr-e Iran, February 3).
The daily Tehran Emrooz warned that the confrontation in the Majles serves the interests of Iran’s enemies. An editorial published by the daily on February 4 said that the debate exacerbates the problems faced by the country. The Majles exercised its legal power to impeach a government minister, but unfortunately the session devolved into a heated confrontation that goes against the Supreme Leader’s directive, and this at a time when Iran is facing unprecedented external pressure and severe economic problems that require the authorities to join forces and resolve their differences of opinion. Tehran Emrooz, affiliated with Tehran’s mayor and the president’s political rival Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, blamed the president for what happened in the Majles and demanded an end to the confrontation, which he referred to as “a game in the enemy’s court”.
The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami defined the Majles session as “a historic day for the Majles”, which has made it clear to the Iranian public that the source of the differences of opinion between the branches of government lies in the tendency shown by the president and his allies to act illegally. For some time now the people of Iran have been asking themselves what kind of documents the president threatened to expose. They also expected the Majles to exercise its legal responsibility vis-à-vis the government and the president. The Majles session gave an answer to the people’s question, and it is now clear that the president is the one responsible for the differences of opinion and for the political storm.
The daily lashed out against Ahmadinejad, saying that his attempt to intimidate the Majles speaker by threatening to expose information on his brother in order to keep the Majles from exercising its responsibility is both immoral and reprehensible. In contrast, the Majles speaker reacted wisely and courageously, which led to the impeachment of the labor minister. The Majles has proven that, when it has decided on a course of action, it is well able to use its legal status to prevent the government and the president from violating the law (Jomhuri-ye Eslami, February 4).
The Tasnim website referred to the events that took place in the Majles as a “black Sunday” for the Majles and the government and a source of joy for Iran’s enemies. The website argued that both the Majles members and the president are responsible for the public confrontation. The president insisted on keeping Mortazavi in his position, and the question that he should be asked is if there was no other position for Mortazavi that he had to insist on retaining him, even if it meant polarizing the political atmosphere in the country. While Mortazavi’s appointment may be within Ahmadinejad’s power, the president would have done better to give up his right in order to maintain calm in the country and fulfill the Supreme Leader’s directive. The grave mistake Ahmadinejad has made during the Majles session casts doubt on his loyalty to the Supreme Leader.
Some of the Majles members are also to blame for the flare-up of tempers. Was it not the right thing to do to give up the Majles members’ legal right to impeach the labor minister to maintain calm in the country? Didn’t the Majles members who put forward the impeachment expect that the president would behave this way? Did they think that impeaching the minister would solve the country’s problems?
According to Tasnim, the Majles and the president ignored the Supreme Leader’s directive and polarized the political atmosphere in the country. They ignored the economic problems facing the citizens, busied themselves with inconsequential issues, and provided the enemies of Iran with the best opportunity to step up the pressure on the country. What can you expect Iran’s enemies to do when its leaders themselves have no mercy for the country or its citizens? (www.tasnimnews.com, February 3).
The daily Kayhan, too, strongly condemned the president and the Majles members, accusing them of responsibility for the events. In its editorial, the conservative daily said that it is the “deviant faction” and the “seduction faction” (a term referring to the reformist opposition) that benefit from the conflict between the Majles and the government, as it is their interest to have the Iranian authorities deal with internal conflicts rather than cooperate with each other to resolve the economic problems.
With their pointless initiative, the Majles members who put forward the motion to impeach the labor minister have increased instability just when the country is facing more important problems. The president, on his part, acted immorally and unreasonably, and the allegations he made against Fazel Larijani were unnecessary regardless of whether there is any truth to them. One only needs to look at the way that the foreign media covered the confrontation in the Majles to understand that it serves the interests of those who wish to take revenge on the people of Iran for their ongoing support for the revolution and for their massive participation in the Majles elections last year (Kayhan, February 4).