- Iran - nuclear power - United Nations
Iran’s newly-elected Parliament picked one of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s potential rivals in next year’s presidential election for the influential post of speaker on Sunday, official media reported.
Ali Larijani, who quit as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator last year citing differences with Ahmadinejad over how to handle the country’s atomic dispute with the West, received a clear majority of 237 votes in the 290-member legislature.
He was beaten in the 2005 presidential race but analysts expect him to run again in 2009. They say he may become a rallying point for conservative MPs who oppose the president’s economic policies and his fiery speeches against the West.
“Obviously the Majles (parliament) wanted a stronger speaker, someone who can stand up to Ahmadinejad,” said one Iranian analyst, who declined to be named.
Larijani’s election as speaker was widely expected after conservatives, who retained their majority in a March parliamentary election, overwhelmingly backed his candidacy at an internal meeting last week.
The new Parliament is dominated by moderate conservatives, including rivals of the president, and is expected to be more critical especially of his handling of the economy and failure to rein in inflation of more than 24 percent annually.
“The way the economy is (performing) is something Parliament cannot turn a blind eye to,” the analyst said.
Ahmadinejad, who scored a surprise win in 2005 pledging to share Iran’s oil wealth more fairly, accuses opponents of sabotaging plans to improve the economy of the world’s fourth-largest crude exporter.
Larijani is part of a broad faction of politicians who, like Ahmadinejad, call themselves “principalists” to express their loyalty to the Islamic Republic’s ideals.
This camp also includes some who argue Ahmadinejad’s verbal assaults on the West, vowing no compromise in the nuclear dispute, have further isolated Iran.
But under the Islamic Republic’s system of clerical rule, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say over important issues such as nuclear policy and he has publicly praised the president, who is expected to stand for re-election.
Larijani has said he differed with Ahmadinejad over “style”.
Analysts say he has shown more support for negotiations, although the United States and European states were frustrated when months of talks he had with their envoy led nowhere.
Larijani last week warned that current levels of cooperation with the U.N. nuclear agency watchdog were in jeopardy if major powers continued to “kick around” Iran’s nuclear case.
The West says Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its plans are aimed at generating electricity but its failure to convince world powers about its intentions has led to three sets of U.N. sanctions since late 2006.