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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Thursday started registering candidates for an influential clerical body that monitors the country's supreme leader and picks a successor after his death.
The registration process is to last a week while the elections for the 88-seat Experts Assembly will be held on Feb. 26, at the same time as Iran's parliamentary elections.
The assembly does not involve itself in daily affairs of state but the fact that it picks a successor to the country's supreme leader — who has final say on all matters in Iran — makes it potentially one of the most powerful institutions in the country.
Only senior clerics holding the religious title of Ejtehad, or juridprudence, can be candidates for the Experts Assembly but like all other candidates, including those running for parliament, they have to be vetted by the Guardian Council, the country's constitutional watchdog.
The assembly's real job kicks in after the supreme leader is gone — a sort of Iranian version of the Vatican's College of Cardinals when they gather to pick a new pope. The assembly has done that only once since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In 1989, it picked Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to succeed the founder of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Hassan Rouhani, both of them moderates and both current assembly members, are widely expected to field their candidacies for the body again.
Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the late Khomeini, has said he will also run for the assembly.
Currently, hard-liners hold a majority of the assembly seats but Rafsanjani and other moderates have expressed hope they will populate the assembly more to gain a stronger say.
Rafsanjani said this week that an assembly committee has already begun compiling a list of potential candidates to succeed Khamenei, breaking a taboo on speaking openly about the top leader's successor.
The 76-year-old Khamenei underwent prostate surgery in September 2014 and there were some initial reports at the time that his condition was critical. A month after the surgery, Khamenei's official website, khamenei.ir, said he went hiking near Tehran.
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