DUBAI Iran's parliament on Sunday told President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad he must appear before the assembly within a month to explain his economic policies at a time of crisis, his second such summons in less than a year.
Ahmadinejad's conservative rivals in the 290-seat assembly have harshly criticised his handling of an economic crisis that they blame as much on his mismanagement as on Western sanctions aimed at derailing Iran's disputed nuclear programme.
Economic problems have seen the Iranian rial plummet and oil exports dwindle, exacerbating divisions within Iran's factionalised political system, despite calls from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for officials to stop bickering.
Last week, Khamenei renewed his demands for unity, saying public infighting amounted to a betrayal of the country.
But the stern warning from Iran's most powerful leader has not stopped lawmakers hostile to Ahmadinejad from pressing ahead with a plan to question him publicly for a second time.
On Sunday, according to a statement read in Parliament and printed by the parliamentary news agency, legislators said they planned to question Ahmadinejad on his administration's economic policies.
Questions would focus on its response to the rial's fluctuations and what they said was the mistaken allocation of limited government-subsidised dollars, including for the import of thousands of foreign cars.
The petition was signed by 77 lawmakers, Iranian news agencies reported, and will be delivered to the president on Sunday.
Ahmadinejad has one month to answer parliament's questions. If he ignores the summons or attends the session but fails to convince his questioners, parliament could try to impeach him.
By law, Ahmadinejad is not allowed to run in a June presidential election, but there has been speculation he will try to extend his influence by backing a favoured candidate. The public questioning could be an attempt by rivals to weaken his standing ahead of the vote.
Ahmadinejad has indicated he will use any public questioning to reveal "unspoken" facts that he has until now kept secret, Iranian legislator Hossein Ali Haji Deligani told the Mehr news agency in October.
Deligani said that in a meeting with parliamentarians "Ahmadinejad was not at all worried or concerned about a public questioning of the president, and announced, 'I see the questioning of the president as an opportunity to state the unspoken in parliament,'" according to Mehr.
In March, Ahmadinejad became the first president in the history of the Islamic Republic to be called before the legislature.
During an hour-long session, he responded in a confident and flippant tone at times to questions about his economic record and his allegiance to Khamenei.
In recent weeks, he has fired back at the judiciary and legislature, bringing into full public view a feud between himself and the powerful Larijani brothers, who include Ali, the parliament speaker, and Sadeq, the judiciary chief.
In a letter to Sadeq Larijani published in October, Ahmadinejad said the judiciary had unjustly imprisoned his top press aide and that it was acting outside the bounds of Iran's constitution.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn)