An 89-year-old cleric with a reputation as a fiercely anti-Western ultraconservative on Tuesday won the election to head the key government body charged with picking a successor to Iran’s longtime supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, a senior figure in the government since the 1979 revolution, will be speaker of the small group of clerics known as the Assembly of Experts. The 88-member assembly’s most important duty is to select a supreme leader, a function it has exercised only once — when Ayatollah Khamenei replaced revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after his death in 1989.
Ayathollah Khamenei is 77 and is said to be in fair health.
Ayatollah Jannati received 51 of the 88 votes, easily besting a conservative and a moderate rival. He also chairs the Guardian Council, the vetting body that critics say has routinely disqualified large numbers of moderate candidates and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani from running for parliament.
His selection raises fresh questions of how much influence Mr. Rouhani and more moderate elements in Iran’s government actually wield in Tehran, despite two straight national elections in which hard-liners suffered major losses.
The ayatollah has a reputation as a fierce critic of the U.S. and Israel, often leading chants of “Death to America and Israel” at Friday prayer services. He opposed the nuclear deal Mr. Rouhani struck with the Obama administration and five other international powers last year and once criticized U.S. forces fighting in neighboring Iraq as “bloodthirsty wolves.”
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