The Iranian Parliament recently attempted to impeach President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country's legislative body has revealed. They were blocked by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who exercises total control over the country's political institutions. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Parliament had accused Ahmadinejad of "illegally importing gasoline and oil, failing to provide budgetary transparency and withdrawing millions of dollars from Iran's foreign reserve fund without getting parliament's approval." Despite this, Members of Parliament have begun a motion to openly debate impeaching Ahmadinejad; they have 40 of the required 74 votes to move forward. Here's what this means and what experts say about Ahmadinejad's--and Iran's--future.

  • Part of Backlash Against Subsidy Reductions  The Wall Street Journal's Farnaz Fassihi writes, "The moves against Mr. Ahmadinejad come as the regime faces domestic pressure over his plans to gradually eliminate subsidies for fuel, food and utilities from an economy strained by a string of international sanctions over Tehran's controversial nuclear program. Authorities have tightened security and arrested members of the opposition to prevent riots and uprisings in response to the subsidy cuts, which economists say will drive up inflation."
  • The Underlying Political Battle in Tehran  Time's Joe Klein explains, "The most interesting political struggle in Iran isn't between the Green movement reformers and the conservative establishment. It's between conservative principalists like Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), and hyper-conservatives like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."
The economic dispute is the most important: the hyper-conservatives, led by Ahmadinejad have been spending most of the oil revenues to bolster Iran's poor, which is the source of Ahmadinejad's popularity (I still believe he might have won the election, if the votes had actually been counted). The principalists want to invest the oil revenues in building a stronger infrastructure and a more diverse, advanced economy. With Iran's economy weakening even before the latest round of U.N. sanctions, and really suffering now, there will have to be restrictions on the vast system of government subsidies--on everything from bread to gasoline--that has kept the working poor afloat.
  • After-Shocks from Green Movement Protests?  The New York Times' William Yong calls this "a sign that internal fissures that developed between the Ahmadinejad government and conservatives in Parliament during last year’s wave of protests have yet to be closed. ... During the protests last summer over the disputed election that kept Mr. Ahmadinejad in office, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and a leading conservative, was critical of the government’s heavy-handed efforts to suppress the demonstrations."
  • Wide Mistrust of Ahmadinejad as Iranian Economy Buckles  The Daily Beast's Reza Aslan writes, "No one trusts the president on economic matters any longer, not after his constant and deliberate misrepresentations of the country’s economic situation. Responding to the rosy government statistic about the health of the economy that Ahmadinejad continually touts as proof of his economic stewardship, the Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi spoke for most Iranians when he said the government figures 'contradict what people see with their own eyes.' Last September, Rafsanjani publicly rebuked Ahmadinejad for continuing to treat the sanctions that are devastating Iran’s economy as, in his words, 'a joke.'"
  • The Sanctions Are Working  The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan puts it plainly: "Part of the mess is due to Ahmadinejad's dictatorial floutng of parliamentary prerogatives; but part is also due to the remarkably successful sanctions regime Obama relentlessly put together."