May 24, 2016
On May 24, hardliner cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati was elected chairman of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a body of 88 clerics and scholars tasked with overseeing and appointing the supreme leader. He has been a strong critic of President Hassan Rouhani’s efforts to improve relations with the West and expand international trade.
Jannati, at age 89, won the chairmanship with 51 votes and will serve a two-year term. He finished ahead of two other candidates: Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, who won 21 votes, and Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a former judiciary chief who received 13 votes. Jannati also chairs the Guardian Council, the powerful clerical body that vets candidates in Iran’s elections as well as all legislation to ensure it is compatible with Islam.
Jannati was one of the few hardliners reelected to the Assembly of Experts during the February elections, and the only hardliner to secure one of Tehran’s Assembly seats. He finished last, in 16th place, among the Tehran candidates who won seats. In Tehran, two key hardliners – both of which had been potential contenders to replace Supreme Leader Khamenei – lost their seats in the elections. Former Assembly of Experts chairman Mohammad Yazdi finished in 17th place, just missing the cut off for Tehran’s 16 available seats. Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, one of the Assembly’s most hardline clerics, finished in 19th place and also lost his seat.
Candidates aligned with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and current President Hassan Rouhani, who have urged reforms in the past, won major gains. Rafsanjani placed first in the race for the 16 available seats in Tehran. Senior clerics backed by reformists and centrists – but who are not necessarily reformists themselves – won 59 percent of seats in Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the Interior Ministry reported. They previously only held around 23 percent of the clerical body.
The Assembly of Experts has served largely as a rubber stamp organization. But this election could be significant since the supreme leader, who has been in power a quarter century, is now 76. The next supreme leader also may emerge from the new Assembly, which is comparable to the College of Cardinals in its powers to select the top religious authority. The supreme leader has the last word on political, economic and social life as well as national security issues. In December, the Assembly reportedly began drafting a list of potential successors.
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