TEHRAN, March 11 (UPI) -- Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a conservative hardliner, has been elected chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts, which elects and monitors the country's supreme leader.
The ayatollah was not considered a front-runner, and his candidacy was put forth in recent weeks, reluctantly. Yazdi, 83, won 47 of 73 votes.
"Psychologically, I am not at all prepared to become the chairman of the Assembly of Experts," he said. "I work enough at the Expediency Council, and why would it be necessary to work more than this?"
The election comes as a blow to moderate politicians in Iran. Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate politician, was also running for the position.
Yazdi will serve as the assembly's head until next February, when all 86 members will be elected through direct elections, which occur every eight years, coinciding with national parliamentary elections.
The assembly can remove Iran's supreme leader if he is deemed incapable of fulfilling his duties.
The appointment comes at a time of speculation over the health of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 75, who underwent a routine prostate operation in September. He appeared in public on Sunday, putting to rest rumors of his deteriorating health.
Diplomatic relations between politicians of the United States and Iran have been troubled as U.S.-led nuclear negotiations with Iran continue.