TEHRAN, Iran – In a major defeat for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, parliament on Tuesday ousted his controversial minister of interior for allegedly falsifying his qualifications to gain the nation’s top law enforcement position.
The vote of no confidence against Interior Minister Ali Kordan came after heated argument among Iran’s political elite. At one point, Iranian media reported, a fight broke out on the sidelines of parliament after Ahmadinejad’s legislative adviser allegedly tried to bribe members into switching their votes.
The aide, Mohammed Abassi, reportedly was fired.
Ahmadinejad pleaded with lawmakers to keep Kordan in place, repeating his argument that the fake Oxford doctoral degree was submitted unwittingly.
But in a sign of growing weariness with Ahmadinejad and his hard-line administration, lawmakers voted resoundingly – 188-45 with 14 abstentions – to remove Kordan from his post.
“I am ashamed of saying this, but I have to say that you are a liar,” lawmaker Bizhan Nobaveh told Kordan on the floor of parliament in a hearing broadcast on state-controlled radio. “Even here in your defense speech you have lied about your B.A. and M.A., let alone a Ph.D. Mr. Kordan, for the sake of your own self-respect, please resign.”
The widely publicized case has rocked the Iranian political establishment. One parliamentarian noted Tuesday that the allegations against Kordan had been repeated by more than 200,000 Web sites and generated 450 pages of copy in the Western media.
Some lawmakers charged that Kordan, who took his post only three months ago, had humiliated the Islamic Republic with his dishonesty. Ahmadinejad, who has tried to foster an image as a crusading reformer combating corruption, has staunchly supported Kordan.
“Ministers should only be impeached based on their performance,” he argued.
But his support only seemed to stoke the ire of many parliamentarians who were already lining up against Ahmadinejad ahead of his expected bid for re-election next June. Even voices normally supportive of Ahmadinejad were baffled by his support of Kordan.
“Given that President Ahmadinejad has replaced nine Cabinet ministers in a matter of three years, one wonders why he insists on defending Kordan, whose academic degree has proven to be bogus, and why Kordan does not resign,” said an editorial Monday in the conservative daily newspaper Javan.
The parliament is dominated by so-called pragmatic conservatives alarmed by the president’s strident foreign policy statements and economic missteps. The speaker, Ali Larijani, is a well-connected politician and rival of Ahmadinejad. In a possible sign of the president’s domestic political weakness, efforts to lobby lawmakers on Kordan’s behalf may have blown up in the Ahmadinejad administration’s face after one lawmaker, Ali Asghar Zarei, confronted his parliamentary liaison, Abbasi, with the bribery accusation.
According to Iranian media reports, Abbasi was offering lawmakers the equivalent of a $5,000 “donation” to their favorite religious institution in exchange for supporting Kordan. A scuffle broke out and Zarei slapped Abbasi in the face, according to the reports.