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PARIS — A powerful Iranian clerical body appointed a candidate backed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as its new chairman on Tuesday to replace the former president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, state media reported, strengthening the hand of hardliners seeking to silence dissent.

While the maneuver is unlikely to have a far-reaching practical effect, it will nonetheless bolster those around Mr. Ahmadinejad who have moved persistently and forcefully to quash opposition that surfaced in huge demonstrations after disputed presidential elections in 2009.

Mr. Rafsanjani, a former president and Parliament speaker, was widely perceived as having tilted toward Mir Hussein Moussavi, a challenger to Mr. Ahmadinejad, in the 2009 vote. Within Iran’s complex and secretive elite, Mr. Rafsanjani’s relationship with Mr. Ahmadinejad remains strained.

The setback for Mr. Rafsanjani came in a vote for the leadership of the Assembly of Experts, a body of religious scholars entrusted with monitoring the country’s supreme leader and choosing a successor at his death, offering it potentially wide power to mold Iran’s political direction.

The Press TV satellite broadcaster said 63 members of the 86-member assembly voted in favor of Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, 80, to replace Mr. Rafsanjani, who was Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997 and is generally perceived in the West as a pragmatic moderate.

He ran for the presidency again in 2005 but was beaten by Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Rafsanjani had not competed to retain the post of assembly chairman, Press TV said, after the president’s supporters lobbied for the election of Mr. Kani. The new chairman has a reputation as a moderate conservative with no evident sympathies for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s opponents.

Mr. Rafsanjani had said he wished to “avoid division” by not running, news reports said.

Mr. Rafsanjani, 77, who had been chairman of the assembly since 2007, will stay on as a member of the body, whose role has sometimes been compared to that of the College of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which chooses a new pope after the death of the incumbent.

Mr. Rafsanjani is also head of the powerful Expediency Council, which mediates between lawmakers and the Guardian Council, which determines who may stand for election to various bodies, including the presidency.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Assembly of Experts has exercised its full powers only once when it chose Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the revolution, at his death in 1989.

The vote on Tuesday was only the latest in a series of indications that Mr. Rafsanjani’s power is slowly waning.

Several of his children have complained of what they depict as hostile acts towards them by the authorities.

A daughter, Faezeh, was briefly detained after allegedly chanting opposition slogans in a protest in Tehran last month.

Last weekend, a son, Mohsen Hashemi, quit as head of the Tehran subway project, complaining that government subsidies had been withheld. Another son, Mehdi, who lives in Britain, is facing an arrest warrant on charges of fomenting unrest after the 2009 election — an accusation he denies.

 

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