TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's parliament grilled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday over a long list of accusations, including that he mismanaged the nation's economy and defied the authority of the country's supreme leader.
Ahmadinejad is the first president in the country's history to be hauled before the Iranian parliament, a serious blow to his standing in a conflict pitting him against lawmakers and the country's powerful clerical establishment.
Iran's constitution gives parliament the legal right to question the president, but the body had never before taken a step that undermined Ahmadinejad's prestige and could set the stage for his subsequent impeachment should lawmakers determine his answers were unsatisfactory.
Ahmadinejad sniped back defiantly at his questioners, displaying some of the populist touch that has won him a mass following despite his strained ties with clerical leaders.
The summons follows a long-awaited petition by a group of parliamentarians for a review of policy decisions by Ahmadinejad, who has come under increasing attacks in recent months from the same hard-liners who brought him to power.
Conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari, a prominent opponent of the president, read out a series of 10 questions to Ahmadinejad in an open session of parliament broadcast live on state radio.
Some of the most hard-hitting focused on Ahmadinejad's alleged defiance of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, over the choice of intelligence chief.
Ahmadinejad resisted for 11 days an order from Khamenei to reinstate intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi, who had been sacked by the president in April 2011.
Ahmadinejad flatly denied that he challenged Khamenei.
The president, who appeared in parliament accompanied by eight senior Cabinet members, was also asked about a dramatic hike in prices and his failure to provide a budget to Tehran's subway system.
He was accused of speeding up implementation of an austerity plan to slash energy and food subsidies, raising prices for the middle class and the poor.
Ahmadinejad claimed his government has provided more money to municipalities than previous governments, and said price hikes has nothing to do with slashing subsidies.
Other biting questions were directed at Ahmadinejad's support for his protege and top aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who hard-liners accuse of heading a "deviant current" that sought to undermine Islamic rule and compromise the Islamic system. Some critics have even claimed that Mashaei conjured black magic spells to befuddle Ahmadinejad's mind.
Dozens of Ahmadinejad's political backers have been arrested or hounded out of the public eye by hard-line forces in recent months. Mashaei has been effectively blocked from his goal of succeeding Ahmadinejad when the president's term expires in 2013.
Instead of directly replying to the qestion, Ahmadinejad simply said he supports Iran's "history" and doesn't regret doing so.
Ahmadinejad repeatedly claimed he wants to share "jokes" with the lawmakers.
"Here is not a place to share jokes. This is the parliament. The president has no right to insult the legislature," lawmaker Mohammad Reza Khabbaz told the chamber angrily.
Ahmadinejad's closing words caused some of the largest uproar.
"It was not a very difficult quiz," he said of the questioners. "To me, those who designed the questions were from among those who got a master's degree by just pushing a button. If you had consulted us, better questions could have been drawn up," he said.
The president said he must be given a top score on the "quiz." ''Be fair. Give a good grade. Any grade of less than 20 (perfect) will be rude," he said.
Many lawmakers angrily denounced Ahmadinejad's performance, saying he insulted the elected parliament instead of responding to questions politely.
"The president's language was insulting during his entire speech. He escaped answering the questions. As predicted, we didn't receive any logical answer from the president," lawmaker Mostafa Reza Hosseini said.
"The parliament is now very much against the president. He didn't respect the house," parliamentarian Ghodratollah Ali Khani said. "Hopefully, the next step is Ahmadinejad's impeachment."