Rafsanjani in as Head of Iran's Assembly of Experts
Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been elected head of the powerful Assembly of Experts in Iran in what many experts see as a repudiation of the hard line faction headed up by current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
StrategyPage reports that this is hardly cause for celebration:
The "moderates," led by Rafsanjani, got 41 votes, compared to 34 for Ahmadinejad's man. This is seen as a payback moment. Ahmadinejad defeated Rafsanjani in the 2005 presidential elections. But since then, Ahmadinejad's scare talk has cost the president a lot of support. Ahmadinejad's promises of reform and honest government have not happened. The hard liners are on the defensive. An example of this is the removal (shortly after Rafsanjani was elected) of the head of the Revolutionary Guards (the clerics private army). A pro-Ahmadinejad officer was replaced by a pro-Rafsanjani man. Rafsanjani served as president from 1989 to 1997, and was elected by over 80 percent of the population, on promises of reform and moderation of the strict religious line advocated by hard liners. This scared the hard liners, and they cracked down on moderate or reform politicians, forbidding most of them from running for office. Rafsanjani took the hint and retired to the sidelines. But the backlash, both internally and externally, has shocked even the senior clerics. Many believe people like Ahmadinejad are leading the country to confrontation and destruction. While the Islamic radicals believe they are on a mission from God, and entitled to run the country as a religious dictatorship, they are not blind to public opinion (most Iranians hate them), or the attitudes of foreigners (Iranian threats to destroy Israel and the U.S. are not ignored.)While Rafsanjani is considered a "moderate" by Iranian standards, that really isn't saying much. He's as anti-American and anti-Israeli as Ahmadinejad but has the good sense not to advertise the fact too loudly. And it was under Rafsanjani's leadership that Iran initiated its clandestine nuclear program in the early 1990's. He's as corrupt as they come in Iran - one reason he lost to Ahmadinejad back in 2005. Forbes Magazine once named him as one of the world's richest men.
With Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei reported to be in poor health, Rafsanjani's victory in the experts assembly makes him a kingmaker when the time comes to replace the aging cleric. He could engineer his own election to the top spot or manuever to have one of his loyalists claim the job. No one has ever served as both President and Supreme Leader in Iran which would make Rafsanjani's ascension to the top historic for a number of reasons.
Some experts believe that Ahmadinejad's days may be numbered as President now that Rafsanjani controls the Assembly. But the radical cleric still has the support of Khamenei which, in Iranian politics, means that Allah is still on his side. But there is little doubt that Rafsanjani will use his new found position to block his rival wherever and whenever he can.
In the end, Ahmadinejad may long for retirement anyway.