Rafsanjani to head Iran's powerful assembly
Tehran, September 4, 2007
Iran's clerics picked foremer president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday as speaker of a body with powers to remove Iran's supreme leader.
This is viewed as a further step in the political recovery of Rafsanjani who wants better ties with the West.
The Assembly of Experts is an 86-seat body of clerics with the power to appoint, supervise and even dismiss the Islamic Republic's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, although it is not believed to have intervened in policy.
The clerics, many of them in the 60s or more, met to replace Speaker Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, who died in July.
"(Rafsanjani) was elected as the head of the Assembly of Experts," Hossein Habibzadeh, head of the public relations for the assembly, told Reuters.
Even with Rafsanjani as head, analysts said the change would not shift Iran's policy and is unlikely to have a big impact on the assembly's tendency to stay clear of day-to-day politics.
But they said it added lustre to the political comeback of Rafsanjani, president for most of the 1990s but who was beaten in the 2005 presidential race by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who rails against the West and pledged a return to revolutionary values.
"The Assembly of Experts should be considered one of the main pillars of the country because it has the responsibility to supervise the leader's qualification," Rafsanjani had said going into the meeting, where discussions were behind closed doors.
Rafsanjani, a mid-ranking cleric and pragmatic politician who has increasingly sided with pro-reform politicians, scored another political victory in December, when he topped the votes in the Tehran constituency for a seat in the assembly.
His main rival for the speaker's post was Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the conservative Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog which also vets election candidates, the official IRNA agency reported.
Reformists have accused the Guardian Council of barring their candidates in presidential, parliamentary and other elections.
IRNA said the vote was 41 votes for Rafsanjani and 30 for Jannati. It did not say how many of the clerics were present. - Reuters