TEHRAN (Reuters) - Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani lost his position Tuesday as head of an important state clerical body after hardliners criticized him for being too close to the reformist opposition.
The defeat for one of the great survivors of Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic revolution highlighted how opponents to hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are being isolated and sidelined.
Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, a veteran conservative cleric, was elected as the new chairman of the Assembly of Experts after Rafsanjani withdrew his candidacy, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
The vote will have little immediate practical impact. But it tilts the country's power struggle further toward a strengthening of the hardline camp.
Rafsanjani had chaired the assembly since 2007. The elected body of clerics appoints, supervises and has the theoretic power to dismiss the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The defeat was a blow to Rafsanjani's attempt to play a bridging role between dominant Islamic hardliners and the increasingly marginalized reformist opposition.
It also removes him from a potentially pivotal position in shaping the eventual succession to Khamenei, who is 71.
Rafsanjani was stripped of his role as a Friday prayers leader after criticizing a crackdown on opposition protests after Ahmadinejad's disputed 2009 re-election. He remains chairman of the Expediency Council, a committee which arbitrates disputes over legislation among state bodies.
Hardline media had welcomed the possible nomination of Mahdavi Kani.
(Reporting by Hashem Kalantari; Writing by Reza Derakhshi; Editing by Paul Taylor)