London- Iran’s new Assembly of Experts has chosen Ahmed Jannati, who is very close to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to serve as the body’s speaker for two years.
Jannati was backed by 51 members of the 88-seat body, beating two other conservatives, Tehran prayer leader Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, a moderate with reformist support, and Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the former judiciary chief, who won 21 and 13 votes respectively.
Jannati had squeezed in as the last of 16 members elected in the capital Tehran. He is also the chairman of the Guardian Council, a hardline vetting body that disqualified the majority of prominent reformist and many moderate candidates from running in the February elections.
He is the father of Ali Jannati, President Hassan Rouhani’s culture minister.
Council members, who are elected every eight years, oversee the work of Iran’s supreme leader and will eventually pick the successor of Khamenei.
Even by the standards of Iran’s clerical establishment, Jannati stands out for his virulently anti-Western opinions, once accusing the West of having created al Qaeda and describing U.S. forces in Iraq as “bloodthirsty wolves”.
Before his election, Jannati also ran but lost the Assembly of Experts chairmanship to former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in 2007.
Reports on Tuesday said that Rafsanjani had failed to muster enough votes to mount a serious challenge and instead fielded Ebrahim Amini, a 92-year-old moderate figure. The other candidate was former Chief Justice Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi.
Other prominent hardliners were less lucky, including outgoing assembly chairman Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi and Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, a close adviser to ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In the vote for the assembly chairmanship, the reformist camp reportedly threw its support behind Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, a moderate conservative who is a prayer leader in the Shia clerical center of Qom, but he won just 21 votes to Jannati’s 51.
Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader who is supposed to be subject to the oversight of the assembly, congratulated the new members and reminded them of their responsibilities.
“In one sentence, the responsibility is this: accurately and fully guarding the Islamic and revolutionary identity in the country, and guiding the interlinked organizations of this system toward grand and high objectives,” he said on his website.
Notably, the Guardian Council headed by conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, barred Khomeini from competing in the Feb. 26 election. When Khomeini objected and asked that the decision be reviewed, he was disqualified once again. Therefore, he refused to participate in the assembly’s session on Tuesday.
For his part, Jannati said that the elections were carried out in sensitive circumstances for the Iranian regime, pointing out to the aggravation of the differences among major parties in power; stressing that it was leading to division in the country.
Candidates nominated to the Assembly of Experts are among the most influential clerics in the Iranian power circles, and the current assembly did not witness major changes in its members due to the roles and political posts occupied by members of the parliament.