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Iran to vote for powerful Iran body in Dec -paper

Written by: Staff
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TEHRAN, Aug 31 (Reuters) Iran will hold elections on Dec 15 for a key clerical body that appoints and can also dismiss the supreme leader, the Islamic Republic's most powerful figure, a newspaper reported today.

The vote for the Assembly of Experts, now dominated by conservatives, could prove a tough test for reformists seeking political revival after they were trounced in elections to city councils, parliament and the presidency, analysts say.

Elections are usually held every eight years to the assembly of Shi'ite Muslim theologians who appoint, supervise and can dismiss Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority under Iran's system of clerical rule.

Despite the assembly's powerful mandate, it is not known to have intervened in any major political decisions.

The daily Etemad-e Melli said the vote to the 86-seat assembly would be held on Azar 24, the Iranian date that corresponds to Dec 15. It said the next assembly would have a 10-year term.

The report, which could not be immediately confirmed, followed a twice yearly meeting of the assembly on Tuesday and yesterday.

A senior Western diplomat said the election result would not immediately influence policy but could indicate where policy might be headed, particularly if supporters of Iran's populist and anti-Western President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did well.

Khamenei warned against factional politics in the assembly.

''People with different political views can become a member of this assembly but they should avoid turning this assembly into a place that displays opposing and factional beliefs,'' Khamenei was quote as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

The body is now dominated by conservative clerics who have kept the assembly out of day-to-day politics, analysts say.

Reformists fear gains by candidates sympathising with Ahmadinejad's hardline stance who may seek a more active political role for the assembly.

Shifting allegiances and a lack of disciplined parties make it difficult to estimate precise seat numbers for each group.

The assembly elections would be the first national vote since Ahmadinejad beat reformists in the 2005 presidential poll.

Reformists, who seek social and political change, are in disarray and no longer control any of Iran's levers of power.

Reformists say they may face hurdles even registering to run because potential candidates are vetoed by the Guardian Council, a conservative-dominated body which eliminated most of the reformist hopefuls in the 1998 race.

''We will do our best to contend and be competitive in these (assembly) elections,'' a reformist and former top Iranian official told Reuters but added: ''The Guardian Council may not let reformist candidates compete.'' Those seeking to run must be religious scholars. Women can run but none were allowed to run in the 1998 vote.

There were 47 million eligible voters, out of a population of about 67 million, in last year's presidential race.

Reuters AB RS2158

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