Hard-line Cleric: Reformists Will Not Be Allowed to Run

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Several powerful and influential clerics have given statements on whether Reformists will run for the presidency or be disqualified by the Guardian Council, the body of clerics that vets candidates for the elections in Iran. The most prominent to be mentioned from the Reformist camp is former president Mohammad Khatami, although other names have also been mentioned as potential candidates as well.

Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi said that “the Reformists are after a candidate that will not be disqualified, [but] their leaders will certainly be disqualified.” Mesbah Yazdi, who is a member of the Assembly of Experts, the body of clerics that theoretically serves as an oversight body for the Supreme Leader, said that “after the sedition of 2009, the Reformists no longer have a place amongst the people.”

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Iran Mourns Passing of Hugo Chavez

Iranian websites have given the passing of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez extensive coverage. Chavez died yesterday at the age of 58 from cancer. Mehr News Agency ran a list of the world leaders to offer their condolences. Fars News Agency highlighted Vice President Nicolas Maduro’s claim that “enemies had infected” Chavez with cancer. Mashreg News showed pictures of Venezuelans mourning the loss of their leader, as well as pictures of Chavez from his youth to the army to his sick bed, along with Chavez next to Ahmadinejad.

One particular theme all the websites stressed was the continuation of “stability” with the absence of Chavez. In a piece titled “Political Stability, Chavez’s Legacy,” the Iranian Diplomacy site conducted an interview with former ambassador to Brazil Seyyed Jaffar Hashemi, who emphasized that “because of their positive experience under Chavez the people of Venezuela will continue his path.”

In his letter of condolences to Vice President Maduro, President Ahmadinejad wrote that “the world has fallen into mourning.” He described Chavez as a “pure, kind and brave” man who with “love for the people” who “would work endlessly to serve his people, especially those most deprived and wounded from colonialism and arrogance.”

The president ended his letter by saying that he had no doubt that Chavez “would return along with all the other righteous and the Prophet Jesus […] to help lead society to complete peace and justice.”

In Other News

Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani was re-elected to lead the Assembly of Experts while a key Khamenei ally was elected to be first deputy yesterday. The Assembly of Experts is a body of Shiite clerics whose role is to supervise and select or remove the Supreme Leader of Iran.

Mahdavi Kani replaced Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as Chairman of the Assembly of Experts March of 2011. Many experts viewed the replacement as an attempt by Ayatollah Khamenei to weaken Rafsanjani’s power by promoting an ally to the position.

Out of the 70 votes cast, Mahdavi Kani received 64. He will serve another two-year term. In his speech, Mahdavi Kani stressed the important role of clerics in Iran. He said, “we must not forget that we wear the robes of clerics […] and we have a heavy burden to protect the system and the revolution.” Mahdavi Kani also recommended that those who know they will not be approved by the Gaurdian Council for the presidential elections should not announce their candidacy in the first place.

One surprise from the meeting of the Assembly of Experts was the election of Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi to the post of First Deputy of the Assembly. He replaced Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Yazdi. Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani held the deputy director position before his election to the chairmanship.

Ayatollah Shahroudi is considered a key clerical ally to Khamenei. He also holds the position of chairman of the Arbitrative Body, which is technically supposed to solve problems and differences between the three branches of government. The Western press has speculated the Islamic Republic of Iran has been spending considerable money and political clout to promote Shahroudi as the top spiritual leader for Shias of Iraq to replace Ayatollah Ali Sistani, should he pass away. Shahroudi is Iraqi born and has considerable connections in religious circles in Iraq, though the possibility of him replacing Sistani are still remote.