It wasn't long ago that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had the solid backing of Iran's establishment. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stood firmly by him during 2009's disputed election that led to the country's most significant unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
But during the past months, Ahmadinejad has been losing support. Today, that became readily apparent when Iran's parliament voted 165-1 in favor of taking the president to court over what they say was an illegal takeover of Iran's Oil Ministry.
More importantly, perhaps, Iran's Press TV reports that the Guardian Council — appointed by the country's clerics and Parliament — also stated "Ahmadinejad's decision to take charge of the ministry is against the provisions of Article 135 of Iran's Constitution."
So what does it mean for Ahmadinejad? The AP looks toward the future:
The 165-1 vote was the latest salvo in the political maneuvering that began when Ahmadinejad publicly challenged Iran's supreme leader in April, only to back down. The confrontations appear to be part of a power struggle ahead of parliamentary elections next year and the vote for Ahmadinejad's successor in mid-2013.
It's unclear whether Wednesday's vote in the 290-member parliament will actually be followed by charges or a lawsuit against Ahmadinejad, but it clearly pits the president against a majority of lawmakers, including parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, a leader of a rival camp within the president's conservative political bloc. If charges proceed against the president, he could well face an investigation by the judiciary, which is led by Larijani's brother.
The incident the AP refers to in April is when Ahmadinejad tried to fire Iran's intelligence minister. Khamenei told him no and Ahmadinejad tried to assert his power by firing other ministers and refusing to attend cabinet meetings. Eventually, Ahmadinejad backed down.
In a piece for Foreign Policy, Barbara Slavin writes that Ahmadinejad is just learning what other Iranian presidents learned before him: "You serve at the pleasure of the supreme leader, and he prefers his presidents weak."
The latest developments, however, are striking in view of the fact that Khamenei so strongly backed Ahmadinejad after the disputed 2009 election, going so far as to call the president's reelection a "divine assessment."
Since then, the regime has weathered unprecedented opposition protests and surmounted another major challenge by phasing out costly subsidies on consumer staples. Ahmadinejad has served the regime's purposes; his usefulness now appears at an end. As parliamentary elections approach next year, followed by a new presidential vote, Iran's conservative establishment appears intent on preventing Ahmadinejad from designating a successor and planning a possible Putin-esque comeback in 2017. The best way to block that is to weaken him now.