February 29, 2016
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s moderates have dealt another blow to the country’s hard-liners, winning the majority of seats in last week’s vote for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body empowered with choosing the nation’s supreme leader.
Top moderates — President Hassan Rouhani and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — both won seats in the assembly, along with 50 other of their allies. The vote for the 88-member Assembly of Experts was held at the same time as the country’s parliament elections. The final results of that vote were expected for later Monday.
According to Iran’s Interior Ministry, which gave the final results for the clerical assembly, moderates won 59 percent of the seats in the body. And though it’s seen as a historic win for the moderates, several prominent hard-liners, including Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati have also been re-elected.
Jannati, who finished last in Tehran, is also the hard-line leader of the country’s Guardian Council, an unelected, constitutional watchdog that vets election candidates. He has been the most potent force to oppose democratic reforms and disqualify reformist candidates from the parliamentary balloting and also the clerical assembly vote. Jannati and his allies in the Guardian Council disqualified Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, from running in Friday’s vote.
The most surprising was the loss of seats on the clerical assembly for some prominent hard-liners, including Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the current Experts Assembly chief who was not re-elected. Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, the spiritual leader of hard-liners and mentor of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also lost his seat in the assembly.
The Assembly of Experts serves a function similar to that of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, and will someday have to pick a successor to Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It also can directly challenge Khamenei’s rule, something it has never done before.
The assembly is elected every eight years. After Khamenei, who is 76 years old, underwent prostate surgery in 2014, speculation renewed about the state of his health. Friday’s twin elections for parliament and the clerical assembly were the first to be held in Iran since it struck a landmark nuclear deal with world powers last year that brought about the lifting of crippling international sanctions.
The moderates previously held around 20 seats in the assembly and their win is seen as an expansion of their influence within the powerful body. As for the parliament elections, none of Iran’s three main political camps — reformists, conservatives and hard-liners — is expected to win an outright majority in the 290-seat house but partial results so far indicate the best reformist showing in more than a decade.