Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rafsanjani Wins Control Of Ayatollah-Choosing Committee

By Cernig

Here at The Newshoggers, we noted that comparative moderates Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami were making moves to head off Iran's hardliners back in July and April. Now, comes news that Rafsanjani has succeeded in a key part of that plan:
Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and longtime Machiavellian figure in Iranian politics, was picked Tuesday to head a powerful clerical body - another defeat for the current president's hard-line faction.

Rafsanjani's election as chairman of the Assembly of Experts means the charismatic cleric will oversee the secretive body that chooses or dismisses the Islamic Republic's ultimate authority, its supreme leader.

The election focuses new attention on Rafsanjani, a complex figure who at various times has been viewed more as hard-liner and at other times as a pragmatist. It also is sure to strengthen his image, tarnished by his loss to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential runoff when he was viewed as arrogant and out of touch with the lives of ordinary Iranians.

Rafsanjani, who is considered more moderate than Ahmadinejad, brokered the deal that made Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supreme leader in 1989. It is unclear if the 73-year-old Rafsanjani has ambitions for the post himself someday or prefers the role of behind-the-scenes kingmaker. Khamenei is 68.

A wealthy man, Rafsanjani controls a multimillion dollar family business empire, one of Iran's largest, and is believed to oppose Ahmadinejad's populist economic policies.

Above all, Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989 to 1997, is thought to be more pragmatic on issues involving Iran's dealings with the West and disturbed by Iran's growing isolation. He is believed to have played a behind-the-scenes role in Iran's decision to release British sailors who were seized earlier this year, for example.

In Tuesday's election, Rafsanjani defeated Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an extremist within the hard-line camp, to become chairman of the body of 86 senior clerics empowered with monitoring Iran's supreme leader, state-run television reported. Rafsanjani succeeds Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, who died in July.

Analysts said the election showed that more moderate conservatives like Rafsanjani were gaining ground in Iran, where there is increasing discontent with the ruling hard-liners over rising tensions with the West, a worsening economy and price hikes in basic commodities and housing. Ahmadinejad's allies were humiliated in December local elections, in which moderate conservatives won a big victory.
One analyst said "Recently, Rafsanjani talked about the assembly increasing his monitoring of Khamenei. The outside world must know that Rafsanjani's election today is an important development in Iran."

Indeed it is - and it also underscores the often-overlooked fact that the "Hitleresque dictator" President Ahmadinejad is term limited by the Iranian constitution. By 2014 at the latest he will no longer be in power. Indeed, with recent developments it is becoming more likely that he won't be in office by the end of 2008.

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