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Iran Analysis: A Debate Over Ahmadinejad's Political Future

Our discussion --- actually, debate --- of President Ahmadinjead's current political moves and his future prospects continues.

On Saturday, responding to a Washington Post article, ""Ahmadinejad Proves Resilient in Iran", I put out the argument:

The President is an increasingly marginal figure. Indeed, he only remains a figure at all because of the proximity of next June's Presidential elections. That is why the Supreme Leader decided this month not to make Ahmadinejad face the Parliamentary interrogation --- whether or not Khamanei has an idea of who is to succeed Mahmoud, the President is effectively yesterday's man.

Earlier in the analysis, however, I had noted:

Of course, Ahmadinejad is not one to accept his increasingly isolated position without a fight. For example, he has declared since last year that he has documents on his political foes which he will reveal if they do not relent. Recently, some of those documents --- published on pro-Ahmadinejad sites --- make the claim that the Larijani brothers, including Speaker of Parliament Ali as well as head of judiciary Sadegh, are involved in shady and very profitable land deals. However, with the passage of the months, the President's warnings are looking more like bluster than threat.

On Monday, our Iran-based correspondent took up that line that Ahmadinejad would not leave "without a fight". He effectively challenged my conclusion by setting out the President's "four slaps" at Parliament, trying to wield his power both now and in the future.

1. Ahmadinejad's naming of his right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, as head of the secretariat of the Non-Aligned Movement. This raises Rahim-Mashai's profile in anticipation of candidacy in the 2013 Presidential election.

2. The replacement of Minister of Communications Reza Taghipour by Ali Nikzad, the former Minister of Transport.

3. The naming of Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh to head the Iran Culture, Heritage, and Tourism Organization, the springboard for the political careers of Rahim-Mashai and Vice President Hamid Baghaei.

4. The President's comments after the Sunday meeting of the Cabinet, in which he criticised the proposed elections law before Parliament. Ahmadinejad said that MPs should remember that, while each of them had been selected by a "few people", he represented a majority of all Iranians.

This morning an EA reader in Iran takes the discussion farther: 

1. It is my understanding that Nikzad hasn’t resigned from heading transport (and housing) and that communications is his additional portfolio. There had been plans of merging all these ministries --- housing and road & transport merger actually succeeded.

[Editor's Note: Nikzad has taken the Housing portfolio as well as becoming Minister of Communications.]

If you look at where the money is still being spent --- not on production but on huge infrastructure projects and housing --- Nikzad starts looking like a person in charge of a very important sector. From the perspective of winning favours with the electorate, the aspiration may be "We vote for him because he built our road/apartment complex/bridge."

2. Ahmadinejad’s reshuffling of the deck of close allies and his open contempt for all the other State institutions is not in itself a signal of his regaining strength. He has been consistently assertive and cocky all the way through the power struggle simply because he has no other choice. Any sign of meekness and his supporters would abandon him.

I think that even inside the system, among the mid-ranking officials and security men, nobody is really sure what is the balance of power and who is calling the shots. So they all want to play safe. I wouldn’t cross Ahmadinejad out just yet, but I wouldn’t see a sudden reversal of fortunes either.

3. Everybody sees Rahim Mashai’s recent nomination as a clever scheme to upgrade his position before the elections and the nomination itself reads like a Sufi love-letter, but looking at it coldly it is a demotion.

For the first time Mashai is out of the executive branch altogether and while the Non-Aligned Movement Secretariat may be a good place to promote lofty ideas of world peace and global vision, it is almost completely devoid of influence.

So maybe this is really a face-saving way of retreating, which has the added benefit of keeping everybody guessing?

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