TEHRAN (AFP) – Hardliners opposed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appointment of a controversial confidant as first vice president on Sunday, signalling difficulties ahead for Iran’s re-elected president in forming a new government.
On Friday, Ahmadinejad announced Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie’s appointment, replacing Parviz Davoudi.
“It is imperative to terminate the appointment of Mashaie as first vice president in order to respect the wishes of the majority of the people,” said Hossein Shariatmadari, managing director of the hardline Kayhan newspaper who was appointed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“When people found out about the appointment, they viewed this move as one taken not just in bad taste… but as one which shows indifference (towards them),” he wrote in an editorial.
Shariatmadari said Ahmadinejad is expected to “reconsider his decision as for him the view of the people is very important.”
The appointment of Mashaie, a close Ahmadinejad aide, had been expected to ruffle feathers among hardliners and clerical groups that heavily influence politics in the Islamic republic.
Mashaie, whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad’s son, is a controversial figure who last year was rapped by hardliners and Khamenei for saying Iran is a “friend of the Israeli people.”
Tehran has repeatedly vowed never to recognise Israel, which was an ally of pro-US shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ousted by the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Ahmadinejad himself has spearheaded an anti-Israel campaign during his first four-year term, even saying that the Holocaust was a “myth.”
Mashaie had also provoked the ire of MPs for reportedly watching a group of women dance at a tourism congress in Turkey in 2007.
Ahmad Khatami, a leading hardline cleric and a Friday prayer leader in Tehran, also slammed Mashaie’s appointment.
“This appointment has been made in defiance to the members of the Assembly of Experts, the majlis (parliament) and several elite who have often mentioned that the post is a sensitive one,” Khatami was quoted as saying in Jam-e Jam newspaper.
He urged Ahmadinejad to reconsider.
“Although this is his last time as two-time consecutive president, his choice should not challenge the movement to which he belongs,” Khatami said.
“I therefore urge Mr. Ahmadinejad to reconsider his choice before the wave of criticism spreads.”
Hardline opposition over Mashaie is a sign of the difficulties Ahmadinejad may face in forming his new cabinet.
Several clerical groups have openly spoken out over his disputed June 12 presidential victory when street protests against the result triggered the worst crisis in Iran since the revolution.
Hamid Reza Katouzian, chairman of the parliament’s energy commission, said Ahmadinejad made a “mistake” in appointing Mashaie.
“I am of the opinion that this choice will have repercussions,” he told the Mehr news agency. “Mr. Ahmadinejad has always showed us that he is 100 percent heedless of advice in situations that are highly sensitive.”
Two hardline student groups also opposed Mashaie’s appointment.
“The people and university students expect the president not to include in in his inner circle those who favour friendly ties with Israel,” the Justice Seeking Students Movement said in a statement in Khabar newspaper.
The Islamic Society Students Union called for Mashaie’s resignation.
“It is in your best interest to resign as soon as possible from this post… since your staying in the post will create a chasm between the people and officials,” it said in a statement, also in Khabar.
Announcing Mashaie’s appointment, Ahmadinejad praised him as a “pious and dedicated” man who believes in the principles of the Islamic revolution.
Mashaie is currently vice president in charge of tourism. There are several other vice presidents in Ahmadinejad’s current line-up.