September 14, 2007


Rafsanjani - the Man to Watch (Kimia Sanati, 9/14/07, 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. [...]

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 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 criticised 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.

Note too how Ayatollah Khamenei's recent tough talk about America creates wiggle room for his man to undercut Mahmoud.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2007 12:05 AM
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