TEHRAN, (AFP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s decision to sacrifice his pick as first vice president a week after being ordered to do so by the supreme leader failed to satisfy hardline critics on Sunday who said he should have acted sooner.
Some hardliners even interpreted the delay in removing Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie as defiance of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and said it was an act “unprecendented” since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The conservative Justice Seeking Students Movement, which supported Ahmadinejad in his controversial June 12 re-election, urged parliament to question the president on “why he was late in obeying the leader’s order and accepted (Rahim Mashaie’s) resignation instead of sacking him.”
“The appointment and (failure to) sack Mashaie is an unprecedented act in the history of the revolution,” the group said in a statement carried by the ISNA news agency.
The group also took strong issue with Ahmadinejad’s decision to appoint his close friend as chief staff just hours after he stepped down as first vice president, charging that that too was an act of defiance against Khamenei.
“Giving him another key responsibility does not ease the leader’s concern over the presence of Mashaie,” said the students group which on Friday had threatened to launch a sit-in over the failure to dismiss the first vice president.
In his July 18 letter ordering the sacking of Rahim Mashaie, Khamenei told Ahmadinejad that the appointment would cause “division and frustration among your supporters.”
“It is necessary that the appointment be cancelled,” he said in the letter carried by state broadcast media.
The loss of Rahim Mashaie was a blow to Ahmadinejad, who had defended his friend as a “trusted, devoted and pious” man.
The outspoken former vice president for tourism had enraged hardliners last year by describing Iran as a “friend of the Israeli people.”
But he remains “one of Mr Ahmadinejad’s inner circle of trustees,” independent analyst Mohammad Saleh Sedghian told AFP.
The row over the appointment is a sign of the problems that Ahmadinejad is likely to face in forming a new government following a hotly disputed election that has left him more dependent than ever on hardliners within the regime in the face of protests by reformers.
Other hardliners were no less critical of Ahmadinejad.
“After the supreme leader issued the letter on July 18, it was the duty of the president to heed it,” prominent member of parliament Ahmad Tavakoli was quoted as saying by the state-owned Jam-e Jam newspaper.
“But unfortunately he did not do it for seven days and it was Mashaie who announced his own resignation. The president should have sacked him and should not have allowed Mashaie to quit.”
The joint chief of the armed forces, General Hassan Firouzabadi, said that Ahmadinejad should have sacked his friend immediately after Khamenei’s order.
“The Iranian people, who know Mr. Ahmadinejad as a follower of the supreme leader, expected him to execute the leader’s order even before the ink was dry,” he said.
The hardline Kayhan newspaper, which had campaigned aggressively for Rahim Mashaie’s dismissal, said the president had committed a “mistake” by delaying the departure of his choice for first vice president.
But the paper’s managing director Hossein Shariatmadari, who is appointed by Khamenei, said in an editorial that the paper would continue to support Ahmadinejad, provided he did not stray from the policies laid down by the supreme leader.
“Kayhan does not consider him (Ahmadinejad) to be straying from the path of the Imam (revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) and the leadership, so it will consider it its duty to defend him as long as he follows this path,” he said.