Paris, 6 Sept. (IPS) The election of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as the new Speaker of the Assembly of Experts on Tuesday 4 September2007 might be the signal of important changes in the highest echelons of the political theocratic system of Iran and possibly a change – gradual though – in the regime’s so-called “revolutionary” approach to both domestic and international issues.
As the “Guide” of the Islamic Republic who has the last word on every major domestic and foreign affairs issue, to whom converges all powers, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, and old “comrade in the arms” of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, but also his main rival, could have prevented the elections of his old friend, as the Guide’s personal “representatives” in various provinces or other institutions, the great majority of the so-called Experts owe their political, but mostly financial advantages to him.
The election of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a “pragmatic” shows clearly that the hard liners have lost their influence in this body.
However, by letting the experts to express their feelings in the election of their Speaker, Mr. Khameneh’i wanted to make sure were the winds of the nation are blowing: Towards radicalism or moderation.
The election of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a “pragmatic”, if not “Machiavellic”, at the head of the only body of the political system of the Islam-based Iranian theocracy that has the power of supervising the actions of the “Guide” of the regime and eventually dismissing him in case he does not perform his duties in a satisfactionary manner or is incapacitated, shows clearly that the hard liners have lost their influence in this body.
The new victory of the former president comes at a time that, pressures, provocations and even intimidations orchestrated by the regime’s hard liners, led by the fanatic President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad against him had reached a level of “no return”.
In fact, in the one hand, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani possibly could not garner enough votes if the present Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, Iran's most powerful figure who has the final say in all major domestic and foreign affairs issues had wished seriously to stop him and, on the other,
For weeks, the Government had mobilized all its most powerful canons everywhere, but most particularly in the press, to attack Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani and his family relentlessly, with the hard line daily “Keyhan”, a mouth piece of the Guide close to the President, leading the charge.
Earlier on the week, the Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry had ordered the seizure of the latest volume of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani’s autobiography from store shelves because it contained a passage claiming that Grand Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini supported plans to drop the “Death to America” slogan.
In several articles, some signed by its Editor, Mr. Hoseyn Shari’atmadari, considered as the “Guide’s Goebbels, Keyhan derided the Chairman of the Expediency Council for the passage of the book, insisting that it was “impossible for the imam to have even thought of such a thing that dropping the death to America, as he continued to the last day of his life to call the United States “the Great Satan”.
The President, confident by the encouragements he had received recently from Mr. Khameneh’i, was fighting for the victory of the ultra hard line ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, considered as the spiritual Mentor to Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad. But a secret survey among the experts showed that the radical cleric has almost no chance against Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani. It was then that the 80 years-old Ayatollah Jannati stepped in, announcing his readiness to fight the former president, assuring confidents that “to be elected, Hashemi (Rafsanjani) will have to pass over my body”, according to some informed sources.
That actually happened. Not only Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani passed over the body of the Secretary of the Council of the Guardians, the body that approves or rejects all candidates to any elections in the Islamic Republic including the Experts Assembly -- gently though, as Mr. Jannati got 34 votes --, and no matter the importance of that organ, all Iranian political analysts are unanimous that the victory of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani is a “resounding and humiliating defeat for Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad and his so-called “offensive e policy”.
This victory confirms the come back of a man who ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran had been proclaimed in 1980, had played a prominent role as a confident and trusted aide to Mr. Khomeini, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, was the Speaker of the Majles, the Iranian Parliament, the virtual supervisor of the Iranian armed forces during the Iran-Iraq devastating War, president of the Republic after the death of Mr. Khomeini in August 1989 and finally the Chairman of the powerful Assembly for Discerning the Interests of the State (ADIS), or the Expediency Council.
And more than any other cleric at the top of the regime’s ladder, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani had been admired, feared, applauded and humiliated by the Iranians, as he was twice defeated badly in elections for the Majles and the presidency, to bounce back in topping the poll in popular elections for the Experts Assembly.
Under Mr. Meshkini, a relative to Mr. Khameneh’i who was the Friday Preacher of the holly city of Qom and died last July, the 86-member assembly never exercised its constitutional powers to challenge the Guide, for the simple reason that except for Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani and some very few others, the great majority of the members are, in one way or another, under the Guide’s payroll, as his “representatives” in various Provinces.
I’m confident that this Assembly can play a more important role.
However, before his election and in response to some experts who, directly and indirectly, had warned against him and defended the candidacy of his rival, Mr. Jannati, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani hinted that that “this could change if the members wished to assert their right to exercise a more important role in top-level decisions.
"If the assembly of experts wants to take responsibility for important practical duties and to interfere in the current issues of the country at the highest level and to be more active in various areas, there is no obstacle from a legal, constitutional and Islamic viewpoint," he told assembly members before they voted. "The assembly of experts is among the most important elements of Islamic Iran".
It is interesting to note that while as the Speaker of the Experts Assembly, a post to which he had been elected, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani is, more or less, out of the stings of the Guide, he can be dismissed from his position as the Chairman of the Expediency Council, where he had been appointed by Mr. Khameneh’i.
“In a situation that the Government and the hard liners in the religious hierarchy have done everything possible to blow a new defeat to the man they consider as their main inspiration and power base and to finishes him off for ever, the victory of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani can be regarded as a possibility of certain curtailment in the powers of the Guide and his mandate, all in the frame work of the Constitution and laws of the regime, bringing some equilibrium in the distribution of powers, as in recently, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani had gone closer to the political and economic elite and the intellectuals”, Mr. Masha’allah Shamsolva’ezin, a leading journalist and political analyst, told “Radio Farda”, the Persian service of the Prague-based Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty.
It is also possible that, at a time that the regime is facing growing pressures from outside and from the public at home, all because of President Ahmadi Nezhad’s antagonistic foreign policies and his failure to deliver his electoral promises to improve the lot of the poor, Ayatollah Khameneh’i is seeking to assure both the international community and the Iranians that he is aware of the worsening situation of the country and is looking for remedies, starting by where a change in the regime’s power structure in possible: The Assembly of Experts.
Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani will seek to establish the kind of supervision that was previously lacking. In the medium to long term, he will try to introduce his programme to change the situation for the leadership in Iran. That means limited terms for a supreme leadership under one person or changing from a one-man to a collective leadership".
“Like the Revolutionary Guards and the Armed Forces, this Assembly has a very great role to prevent menaces created by the enemies against the regime, but the question is this: Has the Assembly of Experts the will to be useful for the regime? As for myself, my answer is yes. As the continuation of the work of the Guide and witnessing over the conditions of his leadership are the responsibilities of this Assembly, I’m confident that this Assembly can play a more important role”, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani told Experts in his pre-electoral speech“.
However, one thing is certain: That the dormant and quiet Assembly of Experts has suddenly became a focal point of political fighting in the Islamic Republic, as seen by the way two leading papers and commentators presented the dramatic event.
“The legitimacy of the regime rests with the velayat e faqih (or the present leadership of Mr. Khameneh’i), was Keyhan’s headline, quoting one passage of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani’s speech.
“This Assembly must assume more important and more practical duties”, was the title of an article wrote by Mr. Mohammad Qouchani, the “anti-Shari’atmadari” in everything, in “E’temad Melli”, the official organ of a moderate Party of the same name, led by former Speaker of the Majles and close to Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani. ENDS RAFSANJANI VICTORY 6907