Iranian President’s Power Consolidation

August 30, 2009

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defending his choices for his new cabinet. The men, and surprisingly women, chosen by Mr. Ahmadinejad appear to be chosen for their loyalty, and not necessarily for their skills. However, conservative hardliners, who normally back the president, have come out against his female picks. This would be the first time in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic that the government included women. 

Mr. Ahmadinejad is publicly defending his choices at the start of a three-day vetting process by parliament. Under the president’s proposed list, women would head the ministries of health, education, and social welfare. Opposition to Ahmadinejad’s picks is not only coming from his conservative allies who dominate the parliamentary assembly, but also moderates who say his government is illegitimate. 

The female nominees for cabinet posts are Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, Sousan Keshavarz, and Fatemeh Ajorlou. All three are described as being very conservative. They and all of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s choices have to survive a vote of confidence from the assembly. 

If any of the women survive the vetting process and make it into government, it could be a political coup for the president. He has been battling an image problem, because of widespread belief that he won re-election in June based on falsified results. Since that time, women have gone on to become the stars of the ensuing political unrest. Women are the regime’s fiercest critics. They have made themselves visible in ways that have not been seen in the history of the Islamic republic. Furthermore, there is widespread belief that the genie has been let out of the bottle, and Iranian women will not go back to their roles in the shadows. Whoever hopes to consolidate future power within the country will need the support of women. The president’s choices could win him some of this much needed support. 

Mr. Ahmadinejad needs to consolidate power quickly. Iran’s political elite are currently split in a way that hasn’t been seen since the early days of the Islamic revolution. The president needs to not only placate his conservative base, but also moderates who are presenting difficult challenges. One can assume that the president is trying to use his female cabinet choices to influence how he appears in the press. During the early stages of a new alliance is precisely when politicians can have the most significant chance in shaping their image. This is because of the ability to establish opinion where none has existed before. While there is no doubt that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s image is damaged, his new cabinet could breath in new support for his government. 

Opinions of the president continue to slide in polls. Hundreds of people were arrested among the mass protestors following the election in June. The president is currently trying over 100 members of the opposition party, journalists, academics, and ordinary citizens. The government’s Basij militia are attempting to quell further protests. The Basij are among Mr. Ahmadinejad’s chief foot soldiers. They mingle with the crowds wearing plain clothing before they strike. Or they can appear in a fleet of motorcycles.

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