Iran's constitution gives the supreme leader vast, unrivaled power over all of the country’s institutions and citizens, but theoretically he is not allowed to interfere in the selection of cabinet ministers.
It is the job of the president to nominate -- and later for the parliament to approve or disapprove -- the nominees. However, in Iran, there is often a huge gap between theory and practice.
Over the years, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has succeeded at expanding his powers over many spheres, including the formation of new governments.
In the meantime, it has become a well-established tradition that the leader plays a significant role in the appointment of key ministers, including the intelligence, foreign affairs, interior, and culture ministers.
“So far, Iranian presidents had to coordinate the appointment of only five ministers with Khamenei and were free to pick the rest. But now we hear he wants to have a say even regarding the economy minister and the head of the budget organization,” said Mehdi Mahdavi Azad, a former aide of President Hassan Rouhani’s who currently lives in Germany, in an interview with Radio Farda.
The public has been always kept in the dark regarding the details of negotiations between presidents and the supreme leader. The whole process happens behind the scenes, since it has no legal grounds. People could merely see the outcome and speculate.
Obviously, Rouhani has taken this tradition to a new level by giving Khamenei the entire list of potential members of his future cabinet.
This move was criticized by deputy parliament speaker Ali Motahari. In an interview with an Iranian news website on July 21,Motahari said that Rouhani's method in providing the leader with the names of nominees was wrong and would limit the possibility for parliament members to express their opinions about them.
Motahari was referring to a taboo in Iran wherein politicians cannot publically disagree with the supreme leader. Most members of the Iranian Parliament have proved their respect for this red line, but Motahari is certainly not one of them. He said Rouhani should not have sought Khamenei’s pre-approval because it is not required by law.
Motahari, the son of an influential cleric assassinated shortly after the 1979 revolution, is considered a phenomenon in Iranian politics. He is a real conservative regarding many social and cultural issues, but at the same time he is the only MP to have criticized Khamenei’s decisions, including the house arrest of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, leaders of the so-called Green Movement who disputed the victory of Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election.
Iranian political commentator Reza Alijani told Radio Farda that Motahari’s demand regarding the nomination of cabinet ministers was legal and the Iranian president must break the pre-approval practice.
In addition, by questioning Khamenei’s right to pre-approve ministers, Motahari paves the way for the future and signaled that one could penetrate the “sphere of influence” of the supreme leader and criticize it, Alijani added.
Azad also said it is not Rouhani, but rather the supreme leader himself, who is the real target of Motohari’s criticism. Motahari wanted to strengthen the position of the president by sending the message to Khamenei that MPs can disapprove ministers who he’d confirmed, Azad said.
Ahmadinejad also brought up the subject of the supreme leader’s interference in ministerial nominations during the recent presidential election. Faced with critical questions by journalists regarding the suppressive actions of his ministries, including the Intelligence Ministry, in arresting journalists and banning newspapers, he cynically replied, “Was the Intelligence Ministry under my supervision? Go and think about my answer.”