Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani was picked Tuesday as head of the Experts Assembly, a powerful clerical body empowered with choosing, supervising and dismissing Iran’s Supreme Leader. Rafsanjani received 41 votes to become head of the Assembly of Experts, a body of 86 senior clerics charged with monitoring Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and choosing his successor.
The former president defeated Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a senior cleric within the rightists’ camp. Jannati received 30 votes.
Rafsanjani succeeded Ayatollah Ali Meshkini who died after a long illness in July.
Rafsanjani is believed to side with pro-democracy reformers who believe the government’s authority is derived from popular elections.
The Experts Assembly is seen as the pillar of the Islamic Republic because of its lofty duties: monitoring the Supreme Leader and picking a successor after his death.
In December, Rafsanjani, who is considered an opponent to Ahmadinejad and lost to him the 2005 presidential runoff, won the largest number of votes in his re-election for a seat in the Assembly of Experts. He defeated Jannati and Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi.
The body’s real clout only kicks in after the supreme leader is gone – a sort of Iranian version of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals when they gather to pick a new pope. The assembly has done that only once since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In 1989, it picked Ayatollah Khamenei to succeed his late mentor, the founder of the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution patriarch Imam Khomeini.