- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2008

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran’s constitutional watchdog yesterday opposed an attempt by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to expand his administration’s power, saying the move “lacks legal justification.”

The decision by the Guardian Council was the second major rebuke in less than a month for the hard-line president, whose popularity has plummeted recently because of Iran’s ailing economy.

Last month, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rebuffed Mr. Ahmadinejad and ordered him to implement a law supplying natural gas to remote villages after he initially refused to do so.

The most recent conflict began earlier this month when Iran’s parliament opposed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s attempt to bring several cultural, economic, technological and environmental institutions under tighter government control. The institutions include a mix of government-appointed and independent representatives, but the Iranian president wanted to have total control of their activities.

Parliament countered Mr. Ahmadinejad’s attempt by passing its own bill that explicitly prevented the president from taking any steps to bring the institutions under greater government control.

The Guardian Council, a hard-line body that must vet all legislation before it becomes law, objected to portions of the new bill and sent it back to parliament for revision.

Instead of waiting for parliament’s next move, Mr. Ahmadinejad ignored both institutions and issued a decree ordering the merger of the institutions, a decision Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said yesterday was illegal. The order “lacks legal justification because … the president can’t carry out measures directly and without parliamentary law,” Mr. Kadkhodaei told reporters.

Parliament Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a hard-liner like Mr. Ahmadinejad, criticized the president for acting without legislative approval.

“If the government wants to know the final decision, it has to wait for parliament’s reaction,” the daily Aftab-e-Yazd newspaper quoted Mr. Adel as saying.

Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. Now he is facing increasingly fierce criticism for his failure to meet those promises.

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