TEHRAN Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cannot be removed from his post because his legitimacy comes from God, an official close to Iran's most powerful figure was reported Friday as saying.
Khamenei, whose public persona is usually above politics, stoked controversy in Iran when he endorsed the disputed victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June's presidential elections, which plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
Supporters of defeated candidates staged protests that were crushed by police, saying the vote was rigged.
Mojtaba Zolnour, a Khamenei representative in the elite Revolutionary Guards, told a gathering of Khamenei's representatives in Iranian universities that the clerical body that chose him, the Assembly of Experts, could not remove him.
"The members of the assembly ... do not appoint the Supreme Leader, rather they discover him and it is not that they would be able to remove him any time they wish so," he said, according to a report on the website Mowjcamp, which backs Ahmadinejad's opponent Mirhossein Mousavi.
In theory Khamenei can be removed by the 86-man Assembly of Experts, which approved him as successor to Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. But the system has never been tested.
"In the Islamic system, the office and the legitimacy of the Supreme Leader comes from God, the Prophet and the Shi'ite Imams, and it is not that the people give legitimacy to the Supreme Leader and are able to remove him when they want," said Zolnour, speaking in the religious city of Qom.
He said the Supreme Leader should try to make himself acceptable to the people. "The legitimacy of the Supreme Leader is from above (heaven), and his acceptability is from the people," Zolnour said.
Khamenei has the final say in all matters of state according to the system of Shi'ite religious rule established by Khomeini called 'velayat-e faqih', or rule by a religious jurist.
The jurist rules in the absence of the 12th Imam, a figure in Shi'ite theology directly descended from the Prophet Mohammad who disappeared in 9th century Iraq.
Ahmadinejad, with Khamenei's backing, has fronted Iran's nuclear energy policy which has led OPEC's second largest oil producer into further conflict with Washington and world powers who say it will allow Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)