Iran's former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, today lost his position as chairman of the Assembly of Experts, a state body with the power to appoint and dismiss the country's supreme leader.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, an 80-year-old conservative cleric, was elected as the head of the assembly after Rafsanjani withdrew his candidacy:
Rafsanjani said he would not nominate himself so that the sacred institution "would not be damaged" from his side.
Welcomed By Hard-Line Media
As the sole candidate, Kani received 63 votes of the assembly members. The ailing, wheelchair-bound cleric is not seen as an opposition supporter, and his election was welcomed by hard-line media. He was not present at the gathering.
The news came as no surprise, as Rafsanjani had been under pressure by hard-liners lobbying in recent weeks to push him out of the post.
Rafsanjani was criticized for being too close to the reformist opposition, and today's development is seen as a setback for the opposition camp.
Rafsanjani had been critical of the government's crackdown on opposition protests following President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009.
During the election, he tacitly supported Mir Hossein Musavi, an opposition candidate and leader of the opposition Green movement. Rafsanjani has also called on authorities to release political prisoners.
Rafsanjani's criticism of Ahmadinejad's government led to his removal as a leader of Friday Prayers in Tehran.
Rafsanjani entered the Assembly of Experts in 2006 and was elected its chairman in 2007.
No Big Decision
Although in theory the assembly has the power to dismiss the supreme leader, in reality the clerical body has not taken any significant political decision since its establishment in 1983.
Rafsanjani's family too, has come under pressure in recent weeks. Last week, his son Mohsen was dismissed as the head of Tehran's subway. Rafsanjani's other son, Mehdi, is in exile in Britain, and reportedly faces arrest if he returns to Iran.
A video posted on YouTube shows a group of men verbally attacking Rafsanjani's daughter Faezeh and chanting "Death to Hashemi."
Faezeh, a former lawmaker, has been detained several times for taking part in opposition protests.
Assembly of Experts session
Rafsanjani remains a member of the Assembly and also retains his other post as the chairman of the Expediency Council, an arbitration body for settling legislative disputes.
The wealthy, 76-year-old cleric served as Iran's president from 1989 to 1997. He ran for office again in the 2005 presidential elections, when he lost to Ahmadinejad in the second round.
As president, Rafsanjani encouraged rapprochement with the West. Prior to his presidency, Rafsanjani was speaker of parliament from 1980 to 1989.
written by Farangis Najibullah with RFE's Radio Farda and agency reports
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