TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday encouraged Iran’s government and its new parliament to work together after an election brought in an assembly expected to be more critical of the president.
Conservatives who pride themselves on loyalty to the Islamic Republic’s values and its top authority, Khamenei, retained control of parliament in the vote on Friday.
But divisions within the broad conservative camp mean hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will probably face an assembly more ready to challenge him, particularly as rivals question his economic policies ahead of next year’s presidential election.
“A government that is untiring and willing to serve is in place. If parliament and the government plan their work with wisdom, we can hope to make great achievements,” Khamenei said in a televised address to mark the Iranian New Year.
Iran’s New Year, known as Noruz, started on Wednesday.
Ahmadinejad, who also made a televised address to the nation, acknowledged Iran faced challenges but directed the blame for surging inflation on international problems not, as economists and critics say, his spending programme.
“Your children — the government — are trying night and day … to rectify the situation,” Ahmadinejad said. “We are in an all out struggle abroad, under pressure from major changes and unprecedented recession and an unparalleled rise in prices in the world,” the president said. He also said Iran faced the “bad temper of our enemies”.
Iran is embroiled in a dispute over its nuclear programme. Western nations have led an effort to isolate Iran, resulting in three rounds of U.N. sanctions, because Tehran has refused to halt work they fear is aimed at making atomic bombs.
Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, says it is only mastering nuclear technology to generate electricity and so it can export more of its vast oil and gas resources.
Some of Ahmadinejad’s staunchest opponents say his speeches berating the West have exacerbated Iran’s isolation. But Khamenei has backed the president for not compromising.
The leader, who normally stays above the fray of day-to-day politics, has the final say in all vital matters of state such as nuclear, oil and foreign policies. “Fortunately, the country’s officials have the national honour in mind perfectly and know that surrender and retreat is not the way out in the face of excessive demands from the enemy,” Khamenei said in his address. “If the enemy bullies one has to stand up to the enemy and advance,” he said, adding that to make progress “the nation and the government should each hold out the perfect hand of friendship and cooperation.”
Reformists, who have been Ahmadinejad’s severest critics, kept a small minority in parliament in last week’s election vote, even though many reformist candidates were barred from running in a pre-vote vetting process.
Some analysts say more moderate conservatives may team up with reformists to challenge the president’s economic plans, an area of policy where parliament can have a direct influence.