Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, giving a speech in Tehran, has called for an end… (AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Tehran and Baghdad — Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday as Khamenei looked to resolve a months-long rift among the country's conservative power elite.
"While there are weaknesses and problems ... the composition of the executive branch is good and appropriate, and the government is working. The government and parliament must help each other," Ayatollah Khamenei said in an address to parliament members, later shown on state television.
The pronouncement by the country's most powerful figure has followed a period of turbulence between him and his onetime political favorite.
At its heart is a possible future struggle for power between the firebrand president and Khamenei's conservative clergy, who are wary of Ahmadinejad's messianic strain of Islam and his incendiary populism. They worry his tendency for explosive talk could threaten their long-term interests, if not render them obsolete.
The broadcast of portions of Khamenei's speech seemed designed to settle the crisis, but it also laid down a strict warning for Iran's president about not overstepping his boundaries. "When the law is passed, the government must implement it with full power and without any excuse," Khamenei, said
Khamenei warned that Iran's political camps, with memories still fresh of the popular uprising after the June 2009 election, dare not play dirty games with the parliament elections, scheduled for next spring.
"Nobody is allowed to interfere in the election," he said.
Political observers believe that Ahmadinejad is charting his way forward even as Khamenei's allies have tried to cut him down to size. "As a lame duck in power, he cannot get more room to maneuver," said political scientist Ahmad Bakhshayesh. He predicted hard times ahead for the president: "He is no longer the supreme leader's blue-eyed boy."
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Parker from Baghdad.