Former president and relative moderate Hashemi Rafsanjani defied hardliners to win control of a key body in Iranian leadership. Rafsanjani will head the Expediency Council and become chair of the Assembly of Experts, which acts as liaison between the parliament and the Guardian Council, the real power in Iran:
Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani was picked Tuesday to head a key clerical body empowered with choosing or dismissing the country's supreme leader, state media reported, in a vote seen as a setback for hard-liners in Iran's ruling establishment.
Rafsanjani, long a major player in Iran's complex political scene who already heads a powerful government body called the Expediency Council, received 41 votes to become the chairman of the Assembly of Experts.
The assembly is a group of 86 senior clerics charged with monitoring Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and choosing his successor. The Expediency Council arbitrates between legislators and another influential body called the Guardian Council, a hard-line constitutional watchdog.
The 73-year-old former president is considered more moderate than current hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani defeated Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an extremist within the hard-line camp who received 34 votes for the Assembly of Experts leadership, state-run television reported.
There has been some play back and forth between hardliners and supposed moderates in Teheran for some time. The defeat of Jannati may signal some serious discontent with the direction Iranian leadership has taken, especially regarding the economy and diplomacy. Jannati is tied to Ahmadinejad, whose rule has resulted in serious setbacks on both fronts, and it may indicate a willingness to allow the parliament to exercise a moderating influence on Ahmadinejad.
Rafsanjani fits the bill in another way. While not as moderate as Khatami, Rafsanjani does represent a more palatable presence to the global community than Ahmadinejad. Having Rafsanjani back in a powerful role may be a sop to European sensibilities, which have been strained by Ahmadinejad's reckless rhetoric. It gives Europe an opening to re-engage.
However, no one should be fooled into thinking that Rafsanjani represents a sea change for the mullahcracy. They may reconsider personnel, but the Guardian Council runs policy, and they have shown few indications of change in that arena. Rafsanjani's election gives them a little more flexibility in dealing with their elected assembly and allows for quieter and smoother relations with the GC. In one sense, it puts off the day when the assembly decides that the GC has to go, which delays real reform and progress in Iran.
It's a setback for hardliners, but only a tactical one.