Rafsanjani loses key role on Iranian state panel

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 8, 2011 21:47

Former Iranian president ousted from position after being criticized for proximity to reformist opposition.

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Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani 311 . (photo credit:REUTERS)

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday lost his position as head of an important state clerical body after hard-liners criticized him for being too close to the reformist opposition.

The defeat for one of the great survivors of Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution highlighted how opponents to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are being isolated and sidelined. Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, a veteran conservative cleric, was elected as the new chairman of the Assembly of Experts after Rafsanjani withdrew his candidacy, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

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Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli political analyst, said Rafsanjani did not even run in the biennial contest to lead the assembly, and that his ouster seems to have been motivated by signals from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“This is the end of his political career,” Javedanfar said of Rafsanjani, who in his public life tried to serve as a bridge between dominant Islamic hard-liners and the increasingly marginalized reformist opposition.

Javedanfar said he believes Kani was chosen because he is more likely to toe the line with Khamenei’s rulings, and to support Khamenei’s son Mojtaba to be the next supreme leader.

Rafsanjani had chaired the assembly since 2007. The elected body of clerics appoints, supervises and has the theoretic power to dismiss the supreme leader.

Tuesday’s vote will have little immediate practical impact, but it tilts the country’s power struggle further toward a strengthening of the hard-line camp, and removes Rafsanjani from a potentially pivotal position in shaping the eventual succession to Khamenei, who is 71.

Rafsanjani was stripped of his role as a Friday prayers leader after criticizing a crackdown on opposition protests after Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 reelection.

Rafsanjani is a supporter of Iran’s nuclear program, but has consistently maintained that the country is not interested in producing weapons of mass destruction.

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