Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran's Assembly of Experts

The Assembly of Experts

The Iranian Constitution is a roadmap in which all roads lead to the Supreme Leader. He exercises control over all branches of the government and every division of the armed forces. He is appointed to the position for life, and his power is tied to age-old traditions of leadership in Shiite Islam. And yet, a single constitutional body can theoretically exercise ultimate power over the position of the Leader. That body is the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member council trusted with the responsibility to elect, and even dismiss, the Supreme Leader.

The first Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, never needed the Assembly, having gained his position through his role in the 1979 Revolution. It was the Assembly of Experts, however, that elected Ayatollah Khamenei, the current Leader, nearly two decades ago. It was a controversial choice, as Khamenei was not yet an Ayatollah, and lacking a major qualification for the position. Since then, the Assembly has existed as a virtually inactive body, meeting twice a year and releasing statements expressing satisfaction with its one, extremely important decision. Today, however, the Assembly once again is the center of attention, as it is perhaps the last governmental body not controlled by the supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the powerful faction that has led his ‘election coup’ in Iran.

To better understand the current role of the Assembly of Experts, some background information is required.

In 2005, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani lost a lack-luster election to Ahmadinejad, a little-known provincial governor who had recently become the mayor of Tehran. Rafsanjani and Mehdi Karrubi, another candidate in those elections, strongly implied that they had lost due to widespread electoral fraud. Karrubi, who a few hours into the counting of the votes seemed to be heading for a run-off with Rafsanjani, famously remarked that he had closed his eyes for a siesta and woken up to discover that Ahmadinejad was now leading him in the polls. Nonetheless, the election results were certified and the defeated candidates accepted the outcome.