Robert Tait --- with an extended guest appearance by EA --- writes for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
For years he has treated it with imperious disdain. But now, with his political capital hemorrhaging, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is being subjected to a relentless assault by Iran's parliament with the apparent approval of the country's most powerful cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.
The attacks come in the wake of a bruising public power struggle between the two men and appear to be part of a concerted move by Khamenei to weaken a president he once treated as a protege.
The latest in a series of anti-Ahmadinejad ambushes came on May 25 when the parliament voted to investigate allegations that the president misused state funds as effective bribes by giving $80 each to 9 million voters before the 2009 presidential election.
To compound Ahmadinejad's indignity, the offensive is being spearheaded by the influential parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, a man he fired as secretary of the supreme national security council in 2007.
Larijani demonstrated his increasing clout this week by publicly calling on Ahmadinejad to name a permanent new oil minister to replace Masud Mirkazemi, who was sacked on May 14.
The appeal was part of a move to counteract the president's attempted takeover of the Oil Ministry, Iran's most strategically important ministry because of its control of the country's vast oil wealth.
Ambitious Plans Scrapped
Days earlier, the powerful Guardians Council had delivered a powerful rebuff to Ahmadinejad by declaring his proposal to name himself caretaker oil minister unlawful.
That ruling has reportedly forced Ahmadinejad to scrap ambitious plans to preside over next month's meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, a gambit that would have boosted his standing in the ongoing domestic tug-of-war.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced on May 23 that --- counter to earlier expectations --- the president would not attend the gathering, which Iran is chairing.
More immediately, his ongoing rows with parliament and Larijani may reflect maneuvering by Khamenei to end Ahmadinejad's ambitions to carve out a power base for himself after his presidential term ends in 2013.
Someone Less Divisive
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born commentator with the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company based in Israel, says the supreme leader no longer wants a divisive president and is seeking a less problematic figure to succeed Ahmadinejad in 2013.
Parliament will be instrumental in that search, with Larijani playing a leading role.
"I think for the next presidential candidate Khamenei's going to back more of a consensus figure. For the sake of the stability of the regime, he needs a consensus figure." Javedanfar says.
"Otherwise, if the regime folds, historians will [see] Ayatollah Khamenei's bad choices in presidents and backing Ahmadinejad [as] one of the biggest factors.
"The key institution to look at from now on is the Majles [parliament]. This is going to be Khamenei's tool to create some limitations for what Ahmadinejad's doing. And this is going to boost Ali Larijani's position. This will make him a very viable candidate for the 2013 elections."
That would appear to finally crush Ahmadinejad's hopes of anointing his confidant and chief-of-staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, as his successor.
That ambition was already looking tattered following the recent arrests of more than 20 presidential advisers close to Rahim-Mashaei, some of whom have been accused of spiritualism and "sorcery."
Rahim-Mashaei's advocacy of a nationalistic form of "Iranian Islam" in place of the more traditional theocratic form has angered powerful clerics, who have branded him a leader of a "deviant current."