Rafsanjani is elected head of Iran's Assembly of Experts. Ahmadinejad's power begins to creak
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been elected head of the Assembly of Experts, the
only authority in Iranian political and religious circles with the power to decide
the fate of the Supreme Guide. Rafsanjani, the former moderate conservative president,
defeated the candidates close to the current president, Ahmadinejad.
A big blow for Ahmadinejad.
The Assembly of Experts is responsible for monitoring the activities of the
Supreme guide, who is currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and for nominating his
successor in case of his death or inability to continue. 73-year-old Rafsanjani
has never reached the grade of Ayatollah, but for the last thirty years he has
been a key figure on the Iranian political scene. A committed supporter of economic
liberalisation and international dialogue, he has always been in favour of toning
down the application of Coranic law in the country, thereby distancing himself
“It is very important news”, according to Farain Sabahi, professor of contemporary
Iranian history at the University of Geneva and author of a highly regarded history
of Iran. “Rafsanjani is against corporal punishment and in favour of a reconciliation
with the West, including the United States, even up to the point of abandoning
the country’s nuclear programme. He has achieved a very important victory, not
least because he defeated Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council and a very
important figure, and Ayatollah Mesbah – Yazdi, Ahmadinejad’s mentor”.
The presidency of the Assembly of Experts is a key position, as the Iranian writer
and journalist Bijan Zarmandili remarked, and according to him “Rafsanjani’s voctory
is a sign of his ascent in this period”.
But to what extent can this victory be seen as the decline of the Ahmadinejad
era? “The complexity of power in Iran means that it’s not right to see this as
a definitive signal of the end of the Ahmadinejad season”, according to Zarmandili.
“It is a new, particularly intense phase of the battle between the different factions
and the different sides in the Islamic Republic. And there’s also another important
element: Rafsanjani is about to take up one of the key posts in Iran while General
Jaafari, an enemy of moderates and reformers, has taken command of the Pasdaran,
the religious militia that is a key element in Iranian military, political and
economic life, representing further military pressure on the political scene that
first began with the arrival of Ahmadinejad”.
So tension is running high, as professor Sabahi explained, also because Rafsanjani’s
victory is at least the second against president Ahmadinejad. “The 3 December
2006 is a significant date because on that day the Majles [the Iranian parliament]
voted for the impeachment of president Ahmadinejad and established the date for
elections as 15 March 2008 instead of when his mandate runs out in August 2009”.
Rafsanjani, who was surprisingly defeated by Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections
of three years ago, has slowly begun to make up lost ground. According to Ahmadinejad’s
entourage this situation is due to the adverse press campaign against the current
president, but Zarmandili does not agree. “I think this can be excluded. There
are signs of a changing climate in the political and social geography of Iran,
but I can’t see any hidden figure behind it. The revolt in recent months against
petrol rationing occurred after a revolt by workers in the transport sector in
Teheran. The Iranian capital is a city of 12-13 million people and the transport
sector is a key sector where the struggle for improved wages was followed for
the first time by the setting up of independent unions. And before that revolt
there had been similar protests by teachers and other categories”. Discontent
born out of the unrest of an impoverished country where new alliances are being
formed. “The novelty is that the historical presence of opposition from the civil
society made up of journalists, students and intellectuals has been joined by
opposition from members of the real society made up of manual workers and office
workers who up until now have kept out of the political debate. I would say”,
Zarmandili concluded, “that instead of talking about a plot or a hidden figure
it would be more accurate to talk about the failure of economic policies. During
the last election campaign Ahmadinejad made a great deal of promises including
the promise to redistribute revenues from petrol, but this hasn’t happened. People
are disillusioned and are taking to the streets”.
Attilio de Castris