The Assembly of Experts (Persian: مجلس خبرگان رهبری, Majles-e Khobregān-e Rahbari) —also translated as the Assembly of Experts of the Leadership or as the Council of Experts— is a deliberative body charged with electing and removing the Supreme Leader of Iran. The Assembly consists of eighty eight Mujtahids that are elected from lists of candidates by direct public vote for eight-year terms. The number of members has ranged from 82 elected in 1982 to 88 elected in 2016. Current laws require the assembly to meet for at least two days every six months. The current chairman of the Fifth Assembly is Ahmad Jannati. Due to Ali Khamenei's very longtime unchallenged rule, many believe the Assembly of Experts has become a ceremonial body without any real power. Iran's Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani, a Khamenei appointee, stated that it is illegal for the Assembly of Experts to supervise Khamenei.
All candidates to the Assembly of Experts must be approved by the Guardian Council whose members are, in turn, appointed either directly or indirectly by the Supreme Leader. Accordingly, the Assembly has never questioned the Supreme Leader. There have been instances when the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly criticized members of the Assembly of Experts, resulting in their arrest and dismissal. For example, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly called then-member of the Assembly of Experts Ahmad Azari Qomi a traitor, resulting in Ahmad Azari Qomi's arrest and eventual dismissal from the Assembly of Experts. Another instance is when Khamenei indirectly called the late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani a traitor for a statement he made resulting Rafsanjani to retract it.
The Assembly of Experts grew out of the Assembly of Experts for Constitution.
The members of this assembly are jurists, not theologians. This is a very important difference. According to the Iranian Constitution, the assembly is in charge of supervising, dismissing and electing the Supreme Leader. In the event of his death, resignation or dismissal, the Experts shall take steps within the shortest possible time to appoint a new Leader. "Whenever the Leader becomes incapable of fulfilling his constitutional duties, or loses one of the qualifications mentioned in the Constitution, or it becomes known that he did not possess some of the qualifications initially, he will be dismissed." The assembly has never dismissed a sitting Supreme Leader, and as all of their meetings and notes are strictly confidential, the assembly has never been known to challenge or otherwise publicly oversee any of the Supreme Leader's decisions.
To choose the Supreme Leader, the Experts are to review qualified candidates and consult among themselves. Constitutionally the criteria of qualification for the office of the Supreme Leader include "Islamic scholarship, justice, piety, right political and social perspicacity, prudence, courage, administrative facilities and adequate capability for leadership." In the event that they find one of the jurists better versed in Islamic regulations, in fiqh, or in political and social issues, or possessing more general popularity or special prominence than any of their members, they shall elect that person as Supreme Leader. Otherwise, in the absence of such a candidate, the Experts shall elect and declare one of their own as Supreme Leader.
Iranian constitutional referendum, 1989 removed the requirement for the leader to be a marja, as Ali Khamenei was not a marja at that time.
The assembly gathers every six months. Activities of the assembly include compiling a list of those eligible to become Supreme Leader in the event of the current Supreme Leader's death, resignation, or dismissal. This is done by the 107/109 commission. Monitoring the current leader to make sure he continues to meet all the criteria listed in the constitution is done by the 111 commission. Members of the Assembly report to this commission about the issues concerning the current Supreme Leader, and the commission can then order an emergency meeting of the Assembly. If the commission denies this, the members can ask the entire plenary of the Assembly (86 members) for a vote, and if most of the members vote in favor, an emergency meeting will be scheduled to discuss the current Supreme Leader. The meetings, meeting notes, and reports of the Assembly are confidential and not made available to anyone outside the assembly, except for the sitting Supreme Leader.
The constitution does not specify requirements for candidacy for the Assembly of Experts, leaving the Assembly itself to put limits on who may run for membership. The assembly has passed laws to require all its members be experts in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), authorizing the Guardian Council to vet candidates for ijtihad proficiency using written and oral examinations. This law was challenged by the reformists, and their 2006 election campaign included changing this law to allow non-clerics into the assembly, and reforming the law that allows Guardian Council to vet candidates. Women (Mujtahidehs) are theoretically eligible to run for the Assembly of Experts and in 1998 nine women submitted their candidacy. The Guardian Council rejected them, arguing that they lacked qualifications in fiqh.
Currently, the average age of the members of the Assembly is over 60 years, which results in many mid-term elections due to deaths and resignations. The members must be Hujjat al-Islam or Ayatollahs.
The first elections for the Assembly of Experts of the Leadership were held in December 1982 and the Assembly first convened in 1983. 76 of the total of 83 members were elected in the first round, the rest in the second. The full list of members and election results is available on the Princeton Iran Data Portal.
As a number of members died, by-elections for replacement candidates were held in April 1988.
The Assembly was chaired throughout the term by Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, who chaired the Assembly also in subsequent terms until 2007.
In 1985, the Assembly chose Ayatollah Montazeri as the successor to Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. But on Sunday, 26 March 1989 Khomeini dismissed him in a letter: "... you are no longer eligible to succeed me as the legitimate leader of the state." Following the death of Ruhollah Khomeini on 3 June 1989, the Assembly of Experts chose Ali Khamenei to be his successor as Supreme Leader in what proved to be a smooth transition. Initially, a council of three members, "Ali Meshkini, Mousavi Ardabili and Ali Khamenei", were proposed for Leadership. After rejection of a Leadership Council by the assembly, and lack of votes for Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Golpaygani, Khamenei became the Supreme Leader by two third of the votes.
The Second Assembly was also chaired by Ayatollah Ali Meshkini. The full list of members and election results is available on the Princeton Iran Data Portal. Sayed Mohammad Fagheh was one of the members from the province Neyriz Fars.
The 3rd assembly was again chaired by Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, deputied by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini. The scribes were former Minister of Intelligence Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi and Ahmad Khatami. The members according to each province were:
The election for the fourth assembly took place on 15 December 2006 and the Assembly first convened on 19 February 2007. In July 2007, chairman Ayatollah Meshkini died, and Ayatollah Rafsanjani was elected to succeed him. On 8 March 2011, Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani in turn replaced Ayatollah Rafsanjani as chairman. On 4 June 2014, Mahdavi Kani fell into a coma after suffering a heart attack and died on 21 October 2014. He was succeeded by Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi as acting chairman.
The term begun in 2007 shall allegedly last ten years (rather than the regular eight) due to the "election aggregation" plan of the government, put in place to allow the government to run elections simultaneously for the Assembly of Experts and the Parliament, thereby economizing election administration costs. In February these concurrent elections will occur which will influence the Supreme Leader succession or the possibility of a special council to subsume the office.
The election of 88 members of the Fifth Assembly took place on 26 February 2016 alongside of the election for 290 members of the Iranian Majlis (parliament). Those elected will sit for a projected 8-year term. The new assembly was opened on 24 May 2016 and selected Ahmad Jannati as chairman of the Fifth Assembly.