TEHRAN - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's proposed new cabinet came in for criticism from some lawmakers in a heated parliamentary debate Sunday, but one senior MP signaled support for the surprise oil minister nominee.
The 290-member assembly must approve the hardline president's ministerial candidates and the outcome is seen as a test of his grip on power in Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter, after his disputed re-election in June.
Parliament is expected to deliver its verdict on the proposed ministers Wednesday after three days of debate.
Some lawmakers have said they are likely to reject several nominees because of their lack of experience.
Analysts say a stormy debate in parliament, less than three months after the election which plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, could damage Ahmadinejad politically.
It is a weak cabinet ... we see that some proposed ministers without any experience in that ministry have been placed at the top of it, said MP Ali Motahari, singling out the candidates for the oil, energy and interior posts.
Another conservative critic of Ahmadinejad, who had a sometimes turbulent relationship with the legislature during his first term, questioned the nomination of current Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar as new interior minister.
Is it in the interest of the country to appoint a military man to the most political ministry? ... Would it help heal the divisions in the society? asked MP Ahmad Tavakoli.
Other deputies voiced their support for the 21-member proposed cabinet, which includes the surprise nomination of
Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi as oil minister, a key post as crude sales account for most state revenue.
Mirkazemi has little known oil sector experience but is seen as an ally of Ahmadinejad, who praised him as a skilled manager.
Mirkazemi is regarded as an appropriate choice to head the Oil Ministry, the official IRNA news agency quoted Hassan Ghafourifard, a member of parliament's presiding board and of its energy committee, as saying.
In 2005, the president failed to get his first three choices for oil minister appointed because of parliament's opposition.
The new oil minister faces the challenge of boosting oil and gas output under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, imposed because of a dispute over Iran's nuclear program. The West suspects Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons while Iran says its program is exclusively for peaceful power generation.
Mirkazemi and the proposed intelligence and interior ministers have a background with the elite Revolutionary Guards, as does Ahmadinejad. The Guards, seen as fiercely loyal to the Islamic Republic's values, appear to have grown in political and economic influence since he came to power four years ago.
Parliament is dominated by conservatives, but some of Ahmadinejad's supporters have abandoned him since the election, even though he enjoys the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's highest authority.
The president's moderate foes say the June 12 election, which was followed by large opposition protests, was rigged in his favor and regard the government as illegitimate.
The authorities deny the vote was fraudulent.
Ahmadinejad told parliament he planned important steps forward during his second four-year term, including developing the downstream oil sector, promoting social equality and supporting oppressed nations in the world.
He said Iran should have constructive interaction with all nations and countries with the exception of the illegal Zionist entity, referring to Israel, Tehran's arch foe.
The proposed cabinet includes three women ministers, for the posts of education, health and social welfare. They would be the first female ministers in the socially conservative Islamic Republic.
Conservative MP Kazem Delkhosh told Reuters he believed parliament might reject up to five nominated ministers, including two of the women.
(Writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Tim Pearce)