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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 18:29 GMT

World: Middle East

Iranian power struggles continue

Power is shared between religious and secular institutions

The conservatives in Iran won most seats in the elections for the powerful Assembly of Experts. Iranian affairs reporter, Sadeq Saba, considers the difficult tasks ahead for the Assembly.

The Assembly of Experts is the most important religious institution in the Islamic Republic. It is the backbone of the Islamic theocracy in Iran and it ensures the religious nature of the regime by appointing an Islamic jurisprudent as the supreme leader.

It also has the sole power to dismiss him, if he is not carrying out his duties properly.

In the past, however, it has been accused of generally rubber-stamping the decisions of the leader, currently Ayatollah Khamenei.

Supreme Leader's authority challenged

[ image: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei]
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei
In recent months the whole concept of the rule of the supreme religious leader and his immense authority has become the subject of serious debate among different factions.

The reformists argued for introducing more reform to the Assembly of Experts, and making the leader more accountable.

The conservatives in the Iranian leadership strongly oppose such reforms and they want total obedience to Ayatollah Khamenei.

It appears that because they fear that their rivals could use the Assembly to limit the powers of the leader, they decided to prevent most of the moderate and leftist candidates from running in the elections by questioning their qualifications.

So this election was never about who the winners were going to be.

A victory for the conservatives was assured beforehand.

Low voter turn-out

[ image: Popular support for the moderate President Khatami (right) may prove crucial]
Popular support for the moderate President Khatami (right) may prove crucial
But in the light of widespread criticism of what many considered unfair selection processes, voter turnout became an issue.

The authorities have now announced that about 45% percent of the electorate took part in Friday's elections.

This relatively low participation, in comparison with an 80% turnout during presidential elections last year, could be used by some reformists to argue that for the people the president is much more important than the leader.

Moderates to increase pressure

The Assembly of Experts with its current conservative domination is unlikely to bring major changes in the way the supreme leader performs in Iran.

But from now on its activities could come under closer scrutiny by the reformist faction close to President Khatami.

It will also be more difficult for the Assembly to maintain Ayatollah Khamenei's absolute authority and rubber-stamp his decisions.

There could be more pressure on the Assembly to abandon its secretive meetings and report to the public about its main function of supervising the activities of the leader.

It appears that in the future the assembly could become a new focus for power struggle between the conservatives and the moderates.

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