Anti-Western Cleric to Head Powerful Iranian Council, Signaling Hardening Position in Tehran

An ultraconservative, anti-Western cleric was elected to head Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts on Tuesday, signaling hardening positions in the Islamic Republic.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati won 51 out of the 88 votes to become the new speaker for the influential body, which is responsible for electing the country’s supreme leader. Before the vote, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged the assembly to maintain “the Islamic and revolutionary identity of the ruling system.”

Jannati also heads the unelected Guardian Council, which vets the ideological fitness of candidates for office. His election to the assembly “signals that Iran’s hardliners remain a powerful force in the country,” Deutsche Welle reported. The 89-year-old cleric, who called U.S. troops in Iraq “bloodthirsty wolves,” also “stands out for his anti-Western attitudes and criticism of President [Hassan] Rouhani’s policies.”

An election for the assembly in February, held at the same time as parliamentary elections, solidified the hold of conservatives over the oversight body. 80 percent of the candidates for the assembly who were considered reformers were disqualified from running, and conservatives were elected to 75% of its 88 seats. Within the parliament, so-called reformists, who had 99 percent of their candidates disqualified, filled their party lists with conservatives, severely weakening any supposedly reform list.

Minoo Khalegi, a female legislator who had won a seat in the February elections, was disqualified from taking her seat in parliament two weeks ago because she appeared in public with her uncovered while she was abroad. At the time, Jannati reaffirmed that the Guardian Council had the power to disqualify candidates at any point.

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