June 3, 2016 | Policy Brief

Supreme Leader’s Confidant Is Re-elected Parliament Speaker

June 3, 2016 | Policy Brief

Supreme Leader’s Confidant Is Re-elected Parliament Speaker

Iran’s parliament re-elected Ali Larijani as parliamentary speaker on Tuesday. Larijani, who has held the post since 2008, is a long-time regime insider who has risen through the Islamic Republic’s ranks thanks to his proven loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. His victory comes less than a week after Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a “hardliner’s hardliner,” was selected chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the body that chooses the next supreme leader. Like the choice of Jannati, Larijani’s reelection undermines Western pundits’ widespread, but unsupported, assessment that “moderates” swept this year’s parliamentary elections.

Larijani is a member of one of most powerful families in the Islamic Republic, with deep ties to the military and clerical establishments and especially the supreme leader. His younger brother, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, has been head of the judiciary since 2009, and is designated by the European Union for human-rights abuses under his watch, including “amputations and the dripping of acid into the eyes of the convicted.”

As for Ali Larijani, he served in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from 1982 to 1992, ultimately rising to deputy chief commander. As the appointed head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting between 1994 and 2004, he oversaw state media attacks against reformists. Hundreds of regime critics were put on trial, many of whom were ultimately imprisoned. As head of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator between 2005 and 2007, Larijani refused to halt sensitive nuclear work, famously remarking that accepting EU incentives to give up enrichment would be like exchanging “a pearl for a candy bar.”

Like his mentor Khamenei, Larijani has blasted the United States as a “threat to the entire world” and for supporting the “evil regime of Israel.” In comparing himself against the firebrand former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with whom Larijani often dueled, the parliamentary speaker stated, “Ideologically, I have no differences with Ahmadinejad, but we have indeed differences in style.” Larijani’s hardline positions have even earned him the endorsement of the clerical center of Qom, and of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s expeditionary arm, the Quds Force.

Western media assessments of a “moderate” victory in this year’s parliamentary ballot were based on a fundamentally mistaken understanding of Iranian politics. Weeks before the elections’ first round in February, the Guardian Council – which vets all candidates for ideological loyalty – had preemptively disqualified some 60 percent of the contenders, the majority of whom were self-identified “reformers” and “moderates.”

Last week, 188 members of the 290-seat parliament announced the formation of a bloc called “Velayat” (meaning “Guardianship,” or those supporting Iran’s founding principle of the Guardianship of the Jurist). Their endorsement of Larijani cemented his selection as speaker.

As Jannati is a “hardliner’s hardliner,” Larijani may be fairly described as an insider’s insider, one loyal above all to the supreme leader. After these elections, as before, those closest to Khamenei are the ones who really hold the reins of the Islamic Republic.

Amir Toumaj is a research analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @AmirToumaj.