06/09/2006, 00.00
IRAN
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Tehran set to vote for "Experts" assembly, real seat of power

by Dariush Mirzai

These are the people who elect, advise and control the Supreme Guide, the man who has the last word about all political, religious and strategic decisions.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – On 17 November, the election of 86 "Experts" will take place in Iran, as announced on 6 June by the Minister for the Interior. The Experts make up the assembly which elects, counsels, controls and, in theory, could even depose the Supreme Guide, currently the Ayatollah Khamenei. This means he is not chosen by the people, yet he is the man who holds the true decision-making power in Iran. So those wielding power in the nuclear question and other strategic problems are those who counsel and have influence over Khamenei.

Elected for eight years, the "Experts" hold only two meetings a year, either at the official assembly headquarters in Qom, or else in other cities (Tehran or even Mashad, another Shiite place of pilgrimage).

The reformists, weakened after the electoral victory of Ahmadinejad, hope to make a comeback in this important ballot, using personalities like the former president Khatami and Karroubi, who contested the presidential election, in a single list. Islamist extremists, spearheaded by the Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, also have high hopes for the election. This cleric is the head of the Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute in Qom. He is given to making shocking statements, exalting violence at the service of Islam, expressing hopes of reducing the infidels to slavery, and so on. This mullah, often considered to be one of the "spiritual" muses of Ahmadinejad, protested against the presidential idea to allow women to watch football games. And he won.

This autumn, then, citizens will be able to vote, but they will have to choose from a series of mullahs picked by another body of the Iranian regime, the "Guardian Council" (six mullahs chosen by the Supreme Guide and six judges elected by Parliament). This system of co-opting is not completely transparent and, if it ensures that surprises are averted, thus giving the regime certain stability, it also favours mediocrity.

A few days ago, in Qom, students of the Mesbah-Yazdi caused a scandal when they interrupted the address of a powerful ayatollah, Rafsanjani, the richest man in the country, former president of the republic and current dignitary of the regime. Arrests, controversy, a severe statement by the Supreme Guide (who talked about a "dangerous" incident) and a request for clemency by Rafsanjani… the electoral campaign has begun.

This is a unique campaign, not least because all posts are open only to mullahs. For the pre-selection, the criteria will be above all the morality of candidates, and then their knowledge and experience of legal, social and political issues. But in reality, what is at stake is the power, and especially the influence, of theological schools of politics. These could move either in the direction of realism, or as Mesbah-Yazdi hopes, towards provocation and unlimited violence, in the hope that the "hidden Imam" of Shiism will be revealed. One thing for certain: the election of 17 November will play a part also in the nuclear question and in freedoms enjoyed in the Islamic Republic.

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