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by Kimia Sanati

Analysis: Ahmadinejad's Decline is Not Bush's Success

(IPS) -- When Iran's reformist Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 'keeper of the Revolution's secrets and kingmaker,' was elected as speaker of the powerful Assembly of Experts earlier this month, it signalled a major shift in the country's tumultuous political scene.

For a start, the Assembly has the power to monitor the performance of the supreme leader as well as the entities under his direct command and supervision, including the military forces and the judiciary. The constitution has also invested the Assembly with the power to dismiss the supreme leader, and the speaker of the Assembly commands respect if not authority.

The Assembly held its elections behind closed doors on Sep. 4 and voted 41 for Rafsanjani against his rival hard line Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who attracted 33 votes. Jannati is one of the most zealous supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Jannati has, for more than two decades, chaired the Guardian Council, a constitutional supervisory body whose six clerical members are appointed by the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Jannati enjoys a higher theological standing than Rafsanjani whose reputation rests more on his status as a pragmatist politician than as a theologian.

The Council interprets the constitution, screens the legislations made by the parliament for compatibility with the constitution and the Shariah as well as vetting candidates for running in nearly all elections. Through disqualifying a high number of reformist candidates from running in the election, the Council created a hard line majority parliament in 2004. The Council and its speaker Ayatollah Jannati have, therefore, come to be viewed as a main barrier to change and reforms.

Rafsanjani who had served as vice speaker for the 86-member assembly of clerical jurisprudents for many years was proposed for speakership by one of the few reformist members of the very conservative all clerical Assembly. The three jurisprudents who addressed the assembly before the voting all spoke in favour of Jannati, referring to his merits as theologian over Rafsanjani, Mohammad Qouchani, editor of the banned 'Shargh' and 'Ham Mihan' newspapers wrote in 'Etemad,' another reformist paper.

Many in the hard line establishment refuse to acknowledge Rafsanjani as a jurisprudent of a high rank and do not use the title of Ayatollah for him. In its coverage of Rafsanjani's election to speakership of the Assembly, the 'Iran' newspaper, a government mouthpiece, used the title of 'hojjatoleslam' for him, a notch below the ayatollah rank.

Rafsanjani is one of Iran's few political figures who have continuously held high offices since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1978. He was parliament speaker from 1980-1989 and became, towards the end of the eight-year war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini's appointed representative and chief war commander. He is said to have played a crucial role in convincing Ayatollah Khomeini to accept the UN resolution that put an end to the war.

Rafsanjani was president from 1989-1997 and, following the termination of his presidency, supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei reinstated him as speaker of the Expediency Council, a position till then held by the incumbent president, rather than appointing the newly-elected Mohammad Khatami to the position --much to the disappointment of the reformist president's supporters.

The Council arbitrates between the parliament and its constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, and can make its own legislation when the two bodies are uncompromising on an issue.

In 2000 Rafsanjani ran for parliamentary elections from Tehran, hoping to regain his position as parliament speaker. He came under heavy attack from radical reformists for his conservatism in defending social freedoms and violations of human rights during his presidency. The reformist wave washed him off and he only managed to come 30th from Tehran constituency in the polls. Rafsanjani resigned before he was sworn in and focused on his role as speaker of the Council.

In 2005 Rafsanjani ran for presidential elections against both hard line and reformist rivals on a platform focused on economic development. In the first round he came first. But in the run-off polls the hard line wave overwhelmed him -- although nearly all reformist parties, as well as critics anxious to prevent Ahmadinejad from taking office as president, lent him their support.

Rafsanjani and his supporters attributed the failure to secure presidency to a smear campaign and outright rigging by the hardliner camp. But that was an allegation once levelled at the reformists.

President Ahmadinejad's supporters still continue their allegations of nepotism, cronyism and corruption against Rafsanjani in their websites and newspapers. Fatemeh Rajabi, wife of cabinet spokesman, has been at the forefront of the hard line media attack on Rafsanjani.

The speaker of the Assembly is not to enjoy any exclusive rights or authority and should be treated like the other members, Rajabi's most recent article in Raja News, one of the many pro-Ahmadinejad hard line websites, said while reminding Rafsanjani of the importance of the 33 votes that he did not get.

"Rafsanjani has more support now than he has ever had in many years. The once sore relations between Rafsanjani and the reformists have improved considerably since reformists unanimously supported him in his failed attempt to gain presidency in 2005. The man himself has also warmed up to reformists," an analyst in Tehran, requesting anonymity, told IPS.

"On the other hand, conservatives who abandoned him in Ahmadinejad's favour two years ago are now hugely disillusioned with the president and his power hungry gang of hardliners and have turned to Rafsanjani once again," he said.

"It seems that he has managed to repair his image greatly among the general public as well. When he ran for the Assembly of Experts polls last year he even succeeded in getting a very reassuring vote of confidence from the electorate that had considered him as the symbol of political and economic corruption just a year before," he added.

"This time the electorate cast nearly twice as many votes for him as they did for Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi. They put Rafsanjani in the top place with even nearly 500,000 more votes than the assembly's then speaker Ayatollah Meshkini. This probably was the reason that Mesbah, who had long been planning to take over the chair of the Assembly to convince Jannati to run against Rafsanjani, instead of running the risk of being defeated by him once again," the analyst said.

As speaker of the Expediency Council, Rafsanjani has repeatedly criticized the Ahmadinejad administration for its failure to implement the country's economic development plans. On several occasions Rafsanjani has threatened to use the powers invested in him by the Council was conferred on by the Supreme Leader during Mohammad Khatami's presidency to probe the performance of the government.

Rafsanjani is considered as the father of Iran's nuclear program. In foreign policy, unlike Ahmadinejad, he is known to advocate rapprochement with the West and even the United States. In his first Friday sermon, after his election as speaker of the Assembly of Experts, Rafsanjani once again stressed negotiations as the only possible key to resolve the issues at hand. But he defended Iran's nuclear program and tongue-lashed the U.S. in his usual manner.

"Rafsanjani had a decisive role in bringing the then president Ayatollah Khamenei to power as supreme leader. The two have always been on very cordial terms. The new situation is going to affect the relationship, however, as the battle between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani is bound to get more fierce in the near future," a reformist politician told IPS on the condition of anonymity.

"For the very first time in its history the Assembly has become factionalized. The supreme leader has good reason to fear this. In his address to the members of the Assembly after the election of Rafsanjani to the position he did not congratulate him. He did warn, however, about attempts to factionalise the Assembly," he said.

"Rafsanjani will now have greater confidence in his attempts to restrain the hard line president, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. He is against isolating Iran in the international scene and that is exactly what Ahmadinejad is doing. This will make Rafsanjani confront Khamenei who very frequently voices his express support for Ahmadinejad and his government like he did once again in his recent address to the Assembly," he added.

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Albion Monitor   September 14, 2007   (

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