TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's president defended his proposed Cabinet ministers Sunday against accusations by lawmakers that the nominees don't have the necessary qualifications and are simply unquestioning loyalists.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's appearance before parliament marked the beginning of what is expected to be a contentious confirmation process for the 21 Cabinet nominees that is scheduled to end with a vote on Tuesday.
Ahmadinejad is forming his new government while still under attack by the pro-reform opposition which claims his re-election in June was fraudulent. But he is also under pressure from fellow conservatives, who have long lambasted the president for hoarding power by putting close associates in key posts.
Lawmakers from both sides criticized Ahmadinejad on Sunday for choosing inexperienced ministers, signalling the president may have difficulty getting parliament's approval for some of the posts.
"The majority of the nominees do not have the relevant education and experience," said reformist lawmaker Sadollah Nasiri in a session that was broadcast live on state radio.
One of his reformist colleagues, Mostafa Kavakebian, said that if parliament supports weak candidates proposed by Ahmadinejad when more experienced people are available, it "will be a betrayal to God, the prophet and all Muslims."
Most of Ahmadinejad's proposed ministers are close allies or little-known figures, while public critics of the president from his previous Cabinet have been purged. At least three nominees - the interior, intelligence and oil ministers - have ties with the elite Revolutionary Guard, a powerful base of support for the president.
Prominent conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari singled out the nominees for the interior, oil and energy ministries as inadequate because they would have to learn the necessary skills on the job.
"Such inexperienced ministers would need at least one year's time to be settled in their posts," said Motahari.
The oil minister post is especially important because Iran generates more than 80 per cent of its foreign revenue from crude sales. Ahmadinejad's nominee, Masoud Mir Kazemi, is a former Revolutionary Guard commander with no experience in the oil sector, although he currently serves as commerce minister.
Ahmadinejad praised Mir Kazemi, calling him a "brave combatant" who would be able to manage the oil sector.
But Motahari said Ahmadinejad had appointed inexperienced loyalists in an attempt to "rule the ministries."
Ahmadinejad also defended his decision to nominate women to head the health, education and welfare and social security ministries. If approved, they would become the first female ministers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Ahmadinejad said the appointments would encourage young Iranian women and would be a good example for other countries.
But parliament members have questioned the experience of at least one of the nominees, and female activists have criticized the nominations as driven by the president's desire to increase his popularity, not improve opportunities for women.
Some lawmakers have criticized Ahmadinejad for not consulting with them before submitting his proposed ministers, a familiar charge for a president that has often been seen as making decisions without working with other conservative factions.
Ahmadinejad defended himself Sunday, saying that he was such a believer in consultation that he once "answered a letter by a young boy who had some ideas" about problems with Iran's capital, Tehran.