In a long-awaited move, Iran’s Supreme Leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed new members and a chairman to one of the country’s most important state institutions, the Expediency Council.
The mandate of Council members had expired five months ago, and Khamenei had remained silent. Moreover, its last chairman, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had passed away in January and no replacement was named.
The new head of the council is ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi,68, a cleric and former judiciary chief trusted by Khamenei. He has been appointed for a five-year term.
Some observers were already saying that the delay in renewing the Council’s membership, as well as appointing a new chairman was because Khamenei wanted Shahroudi as head of the Council, but the favored candidate was ill in the last few months.
Ayatollah Shahroudi was born in Najaf, Iraq from Iranian ancestry.He was the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in, a Shi'ite opposition group. He came to Iran after the revolution. He was jailed once by Saddam Hussein in mid 1970's.
The Expediency Council has at least three key roles in Iran’s power structure. When the parliament ratifies a bill, it should be approved by the Guardian Council for its conformity with the constitution and Islamic laws. However, when both institutions cannot agree on something, the Expediency Council should mediate. This is the most commonly used power by the Council.
Iran’s constitution also provides that the supreme leader should delineate broad national policies “after consulting” with the Expediency Council.
More importantly, in case of the supreme leader’s death, resignation, or dismissal, a three-man board consisting of the president of the country, head of the judiciary, and a religious scholar from the Guardian Council, chosen by the Expediency Council, shall temporarily take over all the duties of the leader.
This particular constitutional prerogative of the Council weighs heavily now, when ayatollah Khamenei is in an advanced age and the succession is an important issue for him and other powerful people in his circle.
Khamenei has also made interesting appointments to the body of the Council. Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, two candidates in last May’s presidential elections are now members of the Council and most probably will defend Khamenei and his legacy. Raisi was Khamenei’s favorite candidate in the elections and Ghalibaf is close to the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, IRGC.
But what is more interesting, is the renewal of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s membership.
For the last few years, it has been a widely-held belief in Iran that Ahmadinejad has burned his bridges with the Supreme Leader and has fallen out of favor.
After he left office in 2013, the judiciary repeatedly hinted at pending indictments against the former president on charges of financial irregularities. In January 2015, Iran's Supreme Court sentenced his first deputy Mohammad Reza Rahimi to five years in prison on bribery charges and has also arrested his aide, Hamid Baghaei, who is also facing indictments.
But now Ahmadinejad is re-installed as a member of the powerful Expediency Council.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s decree also appoints the heads of the three branches of the government, several religious scholars of the Guardian Council, Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff and the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.
He has also appointed 38 political figures, as new members. The Council now has a total of 53 members. When it was created in early 1988, it had only 13 members.