In what can only count as yet another setback to the very strange presidency of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Iran’s Assembly of Experts has elected ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as its head.
Rafsanjani, whom Ahmedinejad defeated in a runoff for the presidency in 2005 (after leading narrowly in the first round), now adds chairmanship of the body that “supervises” the Supreme Leader to his power base, which already includes head of the Expediency Council, a body which arbitrates disputes between the various bodies in Iran’s maze of institutions.
The Assembly of Experts, most recently elected in December, 2006, will select the replacement to current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, although most likely not till he dies. The Assembly has formal authority to remove a sitting Supreme Leader, though whether it would ever actually do so is impossible to say in a regime that is still this young and hardly fully institutionalized. (As I noted back in December, there is some evidence that Ahmadinejad was hoping to get supporters elected to the Assembly and use it as a base to challenge Khamanei’s tenure.)
Rafsanjani easily defeated his closest challenger, 41-11, but those 41 votes are less than half the membership, which numbers 86. The Assembly is popularly elected, though the candidates–like those for all elective office–are vetted by the Guardian Council of senior clerics. ((The Guardian Council consists of twelve clerics, of whom six are appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other six by the elected parliament (Majles).))
The runner-up for chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, currently heads the Guardian Council, while the candidate who came a distant third was Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, often considered a mentor to Ahmedinejad and a possible successor as Supreme Leader.
Mesbah-Yazdi’s chances of becoming Supreme Leader continue to look dim; his student’s presidency has not exactly helped his cause.
There is clearly an ongoing power struggle within Iran, and the institutions are by no means the only place it is being carried out. But it is being carried out in those institutions.
Click on “Iran” above to see other plantings here in the virtual orchard about Iranian elections and what “institutionalization” means in the context of such an unusual authoritarian regime. (As I noted back in December and have hinted at here, it is somewhat ambiguous as to whether it is a “good thing” if this regime’s actors play more by their own rules!)