Earlier today, May 24, the Assembly of Experts elected Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the best-known hardliner in its ranks, to run the influential governing body. Fifty-one out of 86 members voted in his favor.
Most important among the Assembly’s responsibilities is selection of the Islamic Republic’s next supreme leader. With almost 60 percent of the vote in Jannati’s favor, hardliners have demonstrated that they command considerable power in the new assembly, which was elected in February 2016.
Prior to this, in 2007, Ahmad Jannati was a strong candidate for the chairmanship, but he lost to former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. His success this time shows hardliners’ determination to rebuild their powerbase after a lackluster performance in recent parliamentary elections. It could also signal greater organization among hardliners, and more widespread support for hardliner agendas across the assembly in general.
On the other hand, in the elections, Jannati was a candidate representing Tehran, which has 16 representatives in the Assembly. He squeaked through with the lowest number of votes among the 16 candidates.
Jannati’s election is also a mark of political vengeance against Hashemi Rafsanjani. When senior hardliner figures Mohammad Yazdi and Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi failed to get re-elected to the assembly, Rafsanjani and his allies did little to suppress their joy — so today’s victory for hardliners will come as a bitter blow, with the prospect of future political battles clearly set out.
Hardliners suffered humiliating defeats in both parliamentary and assembly elections in February, with moderates closely connected to both President Hassan Rouhani’s administration and Hashemi Rafsanjani shifting the power balance away from hardliner agendas. But with Jannati’s win, the balance of power has once again shifted.
Ahmad Jannati faced two opponents for the job of Assembly chairman. The first was Ebrahim Amini, 92, a moderate figure who also enjoys support from reformists, and who has close ties to Hashemi Rafsanjani. Regardless of these connections and support, he received only 21 votes. The other candidate was Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, 67, the former Chief Justice of Iran who, according to reformist media, is also close to Hashemi Rafsanjani. With these two candidates, it was obvious that Rafsanjani was desperate to maintain some level of power within the assembly.
The election of the chairman of the assembly, however, is not a purely internal affair. External political lobbies play an important part, and regularly pressure members of the assembly to vote in a way that will benefit them. Again, the success achieved by such lobbies demonstrates greater organization on the part of hardliners.
Blaming Hashemi Rafsanjani for his Daughter’s “Sin”
Hashemi Rafsanjani has had a tumultuous two weeks. His daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, recently visited a Baha’i prisoner who had been given a five-day leave of absence from prison after eight years of jail time. Hardliners reacted harshly to the news of the meeting, fully condemning it. Hashemi Rafsanjani himself publicly referred to his daughter's visit with Fariba Kamalabadi as “a mistake", but it was not enough to mollify hardliners — they used it as an opportunity to apply more pressure on Rafsanjani.
The majority of Iran’s hardliners believe Baha’is are spies and agents for the United Kingdom, Israel and the West, a narrative they want to uphold in order to gain control over wider discussions about human rights. In their view, Faezeh Hashemi’s visit is part of a project to undermine these long-standing beliefs. By drawing attention to the visit, hardliners successfully created an anti-Hashemi Rafsanjani atmosphere in the media, a climate they have attempted to exploit for their own purposes.
Jannati’s election to the presidency, and the hardliner victory it represents, does not mean hardliners will necessarily have a dominant voice when it comes to selecting the next supreme leader when the time comes. After all, members of the assembly are highly prone to pressure from political groups, and from members of Iran’s military and security establishments, and are liable to change their positions. But Jannati’s victory is a clear reminder that hardliners have no intention of backing down on the fight against reformists and moderates. They may have suffered a terrible blow earlier this year, but they have more than enough ammunition to continue the battle.