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Iran parliament summons Ahmadinejad

By Reuters

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will appear in parliament next month to be grilled on his handling of the economy, state radio reported on Tuesday, after lawmakers took the unprecedented action of summoning him.

Around 100 members of the 290-seat assembly signed a petition to call up Ahmadinejad, in what analysts saw as part of deepening political infighting among the Islamic Republic's hardline rulers before a parliamentary election on March 2.

Lawmakers had threatened in the past to summon Ahmadinejad, but their attempts failed, sometimes because they were blocked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top authority.

"Ahmadinejad will be immediately informed about the decision ... He has to appear in parliament a month after being officially informed," said lawmaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar.

Parliament has often crossed swords with the government over Ahmadinejad's economic policies. Under the constitution, it could impeach the president if he ignores the summons or attends the session, but fails to convince his questioners.

Impeachment, however, is considered unlikely because it would damage the whole ruling establishment at a time when Iran faces intense world pressure over its disputed nuclear work.

"This will only weaken Ahmadinejad's camp but will not lead to his removal," said one lawmaker, who asked not to be named.

Some analysts linked the summons to efforts by some MPs to win favour with voters fed up with government policies.

Hardline rivals of Ahmadinejad accuse him of being in thrall to a "deviant current" of advisers seeking to undermine the authority of the powerful clergy in the Islamic state.

"Ahmadinejad's ministers failed to answer MPs' questions ... That is why the president has been asked to attend the parliament," said lawmaker Omidvar Rezaei.

Khamenei has suggested that Iran could scrap a directly elected presidency in favour of one picked by parliament - something critics say could weaken Iran's version of democracy.

The parliamentary election is Iran's first nationwide poll since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009 ignited eight months of street protests, the worst unrest in three decades.

That vote, which the opposition says was rigged in the president's favour, harmed the legitimacy of the clerical establishment and deepened rifts among hardline ruling elites.

The March vote is thus a litmus test for the popularity of the pro-Ahmadinejad faction and his hardline rivals. A low turnout would further damage the ruling system's legitimacy.

Reformists have said they will not run a separate list as their demands for a "free and just" vote have not been met.