Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a defiant and at times mocking defence of his economic and political management on Wednesday in an unprecedented interrogation by a largely hostile parliament.
“So far no major violation has been proved against my government… If you rate us at less than 100 percent, it would be unfair and cowardice,” Ahmadinejad told lawmakers at the end of a near-hour long reply, which was broadcast on state radio.
It was the first time an Iranian president was summoned before parliament to answer questions about his rule since the founding of the Islamic republic in 1979.
Ahmadinejad rejected attempts to embarrass him with questions focusing on Iran’s economy, his perceived weakened loyalty to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his arguments to loosen up Islamic rules on dress for women and on gender relations.
The fact the interrogation took place, however, highlighted Ahmadinejad’s slipping fortunes as he sees out the end of his second and final mandate, which expires next year.
Khamenei has over the past year curbed Ahmadinejad in his ambitions to expand power and influence, overruling him when he tried to sack his intelligence minister in 2011 and keeping him on a tight leash on policy decisions.
The 290-member parliament, which already has a majority intent on curtailing the president’s authority, is to have an even smaller pro-Ahmadinejad minority when it is reconstituted at the end of May, following elections early this month.
A total 79 MPs signed a petition in February demanding Ahmadinejad appear for the grilling.
In the questioning, Ahmadinejad often took a light-hearted tone.
When the MP pronouncing the list of questions overran his allotted 15 minutes, the president said he, too, would extend his reply beyond his permitted time.
Ahmadinejad at one point mocked a new rule requiring newly elected MPs to have a masters degree or equivalent, saying he thought the questions were drafted by “those who got a masters degree by pushing a button.”
The questions “were not so difficult,” he scoffed, adding he could have come up with better ones.
The president rejected implications he mismanaged Iran’s economy, which suffers inflation of more than 30 percent, a currency weakened by Western sanctions, and stalled spending on big infrastructure projects such as Tehran’s metro (subway) network.
Economic growth was strong, he asserted, and higher prices “had nothing to do” with his 2010 decision to scrap subsidies for staples and fuel and replace them with a monthly $35 cash handout to Iranians, he said.
As for the weakened currency, “the games played in the foreign exchange and gold market have other reasons, which in due time I will explain to the people,” he said.
Ahmadinejad shrugged off a highly publicised incident last year, in which he stayed at home for 11 days after Khamenei reinstated his sacked intelligence minister.
“Most people tell me to relax and take care of myself,” he said, adding the business of government had continued unimpeded.
On strict Islamic codes imposed on Iranian society, Ahmadinejad stood by his view that they should be loosened.
“The people should be respected,” he said. “Do not put young men and women in a vice.”
Ahmadinejad’s sometimes flippant manner enraged several MPs.
“The president didn’t respond to any of the questions from the petitioning 79 lawmakers, and he insulted all of them,” said one, Mostafa Kavakebian, quoted by the Mehr news agency.