Hardliners suffered a serious setback in Iran’s election for a new Assembly of Experts, a body of 88 clerics and scholars tasked with overseeing and appointing the supreme leader. Candidates aligned with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and current President Hassan Rouhani, who have urged reforms in the past, won major gains. 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.
Around 62 percent of Iran’s eligible voters participated in the elections. The following is a rundown of election results reported, as of February 29. The Guardian Council must approve the election results.
In Tehran, reformist-backed clerics won 15 out of 16 seats, ousting two key hardliners. Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani placed first in the race for the 16 available seats in Tehran. Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989 to 1997, was known for taking a pragmatic approach to domestic and foreign policy and attempting to end Iran’s isolation. Rafsanjani is rumored to be a contender to be Iran’s next supreme leader.
Rafsanjani led an informal coalition of centrists and moderate conservatives known as the "People's Experts" list during the election. But like many other candidates, he ran on several other electoral lists as well, reflecting the fluid affiliations and wide range of political views in Iran's system.
Rafsanjani emphasized that hardliners should respect the election results. "No one has the power to resist the will of the majority of the people and whomever people don't want must step aside," he said on social media on February 28.
Mohammad Agha Emami, Tehran’s interim Friday leader, came in second place in Tehran. He ran on Rafsanjani’s “People’s Experts” list, as well as lists associated with the more conservative Combatant Clergy Association and Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom. President Hassan Rouhani, who also ran on Rafsanjani’s electoral list, placed third in Tehran. Allies of Rafsanjani and Rouhani secured 11 other seats in Tehran.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati was the only hardliner to secure one of Tehran’s Assembly seats. He finished last, in 16th place, among the candidates who won seats. 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.
In Tehran, two key hardliners – both of which had been potential contenders to replace Supreme Leader Khamenei – lost their seats in the elections. Assembly of Experts chairman Mohammad Yazdi finished in 17th place, just missing the cut off for Tehran’s 16 available seats. Yazdi had served as deputy speaker of parliament after the 1979 revolution and judiciary chief in the 1990s. He had defeated Rafsanjani in a vote for the Assembly’s chairmanship in March 2015, after the death of Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani.
Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, one of the Assembly’s most hardline clerics, finished in 19th place and also lost his seat. He had strongly opposed Rafsanjani and his supporters in the Assembly of Experts. He was known as a spiritual mentor to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most hardline of Iran’s presidents.
After the hardliners' loss, Judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani charged that foreign governments had influenced the outcome. He accused moderates of forming a “British list” and cooperating with foreign media to defeat hardliners. “Is this type of coordination with foreigners in order to push out these figures from the Assembly of Experts?” Larijani said. The allegations prompted a retort from Vice President Mohammad Baqer Nobakht. "We don't have anything such as a 'British list',” he said. “If anyone wants to say that there is such a list, they are in fact insulting the Guardian Council.”
Iran judiciary chief says US & UK media outlets worked hard for 2 months to secure defeat for country's senior officials in assembly elex— Alborz Habibi (@AlborzHabibi) February 28, 2016
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