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Rafsanjani: shark or kingmaker?
The man accused by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of masterminding the opposition campaign to oust him from the presidency has dropped out of view since election day. But Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani remains a formidable figure in Iranian politics with a network of well-placed allies straddling the reformist and moderate conservative camps. If any one leader is able to force a re-run of last Friday's disputed poll, it may be the two-term former president nicknamed the "shark".
Rafsanjani was last heard from in public as he cast his vote on Friday. According to the Iranian Students News Agency, he called for a "clean" poll and said a big turnout (favouring the reformists) would boost Iran's regional and international image. Following the ensuing storm over Ahmadinejad's apparent victory, al-Arabiya television reported Rafsanjani had resigned as chairman of the Assembly of Experts and of the Expediency Council, two key government bodies. This report remains unconfirmed.
More intriguing are similarly unsubstantiated claims that Rafsanjani is in the holy city of Qom, where he once studied and where he has strong links to a moderate clerical body, the Association of Combatant Clergy. Rafsanjani was said to be assessing whether he has sufficient votes in the 86-member Assembly of Experts to dismiss Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad's chief patron. Under Iran's constitution, only the assembly has the power to do this.
The super-rich Rafsanjani, his family, and his supporters in the reformist Kargozaran party make no bones about helping finance and direct Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign to topple Ahmadinejad, whom they despise. But with Mousavi ostensibly beaten, the developing post-election struggle now pits Rafsanjani against Khamenei rather than the president – who is widely seen as a mouthpiece for the hardline fundamentalism typified by the Supreme Leader. Although he is supposed to stay above the fray, Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad this time, just as in the second round of the 2005 election.