Saturday, October 08, 2005

Iran Moves to Curb Hard-Liners

WaPo reported Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Shiite Muslim cleric who holds ultimate authority in Iran, has altered the country's power structure by granting a relatively moderate panel new authority to supervise an elected government increasingly dominated by religious hard-liners.

On first blush, this sounds positive, but it is very difficult to know exactly what is going on in Iran, and this may just be a head fake.
Khamenei expanded the authority of the Expediency Council, an appointive body whose longtime chairman, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is a fixture of Iranian politics and invariably described as wily insider. Rafsanjani lost last June's presidential election, but Khamenei's new decree, made public Oct. 1, gives Rafsanjani at least nominal supervision over the administration put in place by the winner, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The council also was given supervisory authority over the Iranian parliament, despite the squawks of lawmakers who accused the council of a power grab. Previously, the council was only empowered to settle disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council -- another, more influential appointive body -- and to advise Khamenei.
It could be that Rafsanjani was not really as "moderate" as people in the West thought, and possibly Ahmadinejad may either be more moderate than people in the west think, or the Ayatollah may think he can control Rafsanjani more than he can control Ahmadinejad
"The adjudication of the Expediency Council is the final word," council secretary Mohsen Rezai told reporters in Tehran, the capital, this week. "And even if other state sectors do not agree with it, it is the final word and they have to accept it." The practical effect of the change remains to be seen. The structure of Iran's theocratic government is complex and its operations are opaque.

But analysts found significance in the timing of the change, which had been proposed to Khamenei years earlier. Coming now, the expansion of the Expediency Council's power was widely viewed as, at minimum, a gesture intended to restore some prestige to Rafsanjani. He played a key role in elevating Khamenei to the position of supreme religious leader after the 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution that installed Iran's religious government.

Others also saw an effort to balance the rise of hard-liners who control Iran's elective branches of government, as well as the judiciary and the Guardian Council. Control of parliament shifted to conservatives last year in an election the Guardian Council closed off to anyone else.

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