February 3, 2013 6:05 pm

Iran president and Speaker trade insults

Iran’s power struggle has escalated before June’s presidential elections as the country’s two top leaders fought in parliament over who was the most corrupt.

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, used the parliament floor to level rare public allegations against Ali Larijani, the parliamentary Speaker. Mr Larijani in return accused the president of blackmailing critics in “mafia work”.

The tense political infighting came as Iran’s economic woes, partly caused by international sanctions over its nuclear programme, worsen. Iran’s national currency, the rial, fell 19 per cent over the weekend compared with two weeks ago to reach a record low.

The currency hit 40,250 rials to the dollar on Saturday, prompting tight security on Sunday. Police cars patrolled the Ferdowsi and Jomhouri streets in downtown Tehran, where many currency dealers are located, with the rial subsequently strengthening slightly.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is banned by the constitution from running for a third term in the presidential race, which takes place on June 14. However, he is believed to be trying to ensure that one of his close allies succeeds him in order to retain his political influence.

Mr Larijani, who has not yet disclosed any intention to run for president, has been leading the fundamentalists’ campaign against the president.

State-run radio aired the spat between the two live on Sunday. Mr Ahmadi-Nejad arrived at the legislature hoping to prevent the impeachment of Abdoreza Sheikholeslami, his labour minister, by indicating that the move had been engineered by Mr Larijani.

However, lawmakers voted by 192 to 56 to impeach the minister, with 24 abstaining, in a row over his appointment of Saeed Mortazavi, one of the president’s closest allies, as head of the Social Security Organisation. Mr Mortazavi is an ousted judge accused of torturing prisoners.

The president played a video which showed Fazel Larijani, a younger brother of Mr Larijani, negotiating with Mr Mortazavi over a deal to benefit from the sale of companies affiliated to the Social Security Organisation while also asking for a 600 or 700 sq m villa.

Mr Larijani said the accusations were meant to undermine him, not his brother, and hit back by accusing Mr Ahmadi-Nejad of “immorality”, “mafia work” and setting up “plots” to blackmail critics.

If one of my relatives has done something wrong, what does it have to do with me?

- Ali Larijani, parliamentary Speaker

“Mr president. We do not consider this as your honesty . . . Did I have to film my meeting with your brother Mr Davoud Ahmadi-Nejad who told me a lot about your allies . . . and their corruption and play it for you today?” Mr Larijani said. “If one of my relatives has done something wrong, what does it have to do with me?”

He accused the president of setting a “red line” for the Islamic regime, hindering prosecution of his allies over corruption charges.

It was unclear how the row will affect future co-operation between parliament and the government. The two bodies are in intense talks on how to compensate the public for a rise in the prices of basic commodities amid inflation of at least 28.7 per cent, according to official figures – although many economists believe it to be far higher.

The parliament has yet to vote on whether to give a bonus of between 700,000 ($28.5) and 1m rials to most Iranians.

Many people consider such measures to be too little too late. The prices of chicken, rice and eggs have risen 23 per cent, 37 per cent and 30 per cent respectively over the past two weeks.

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