Hardline Iranian cleric elected head of instrumental body

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, 89, won 51 votes in the 88-seat Assembly of Experts and will serve as speaker for the next two years.

By: AP

A hard-line Iranian cleric was chosen on Tuesday as speaker of the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that is mainly tasked with selecting the country’s supreme leader.

The official IRNA news agency said 89-year-old Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati won 51 votes in the 88-seat Assembly and will serve as speaker for the next two years.

The appointment signaled that despite recent gains by Iranian moderates, hard-liners remain a prominent force within the Islamic Republic’s politics. Moderate candidates and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani secured majorities in February elections both for the parliament and for the more conservative Assembly of Experts.

Jannati is also secretary of Iran’s powerful constitutional watchdog, which is in charge of vetting candidates for the Assembly of Experts, as well as those running in parliamentary and presidential elections.

In Tuesday’s election of speaker, Jannati won over two other candidates for the post, moderate Ebrahim Amini and conservative Mahmoud Hashemi Sharoudi. Influential moderate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani did not throw in his name for speaker of the Assembly.

Ahead of the vote, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, sent a message to the Assembly, urging the clerics to work to protect the country’s Islamic and “revolutionary” character.

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Only senior clerics can run for the Assembly of Experts and their candidacies must be approved by the Guardian Council. The current chamber includes clerics whose ages range from 33 years to 93 years.

The Assembly is elected every five years and is officially charged with selecting a replacement for a supreme leader from among its members or other high-ranking clerics. A 2014 prostate surgery renewed speculation about the 76-year-old Khamenei’s health.