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Iran to hold elections on June 28 to choose new President after Raisi


Ayatollah Khamenei is expected to push his own man for the top post

By Girish Linganna

If Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had appeared less stern (or showing slightly less firmness) during his eulogy (a speech given in honor of someone who has died), more people in Iran might have believed that the president's death was simply an accident.

Officials noted a stark (or clear) difference in how Mr. Khamenei reacted to the deaths of Ebrahim Raisi and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran's foreign minister, in a helicopter crash on May 19 compared to his overwhelming tears following the assassination of his top commander, Qassem Suleimani four years ago.

In his speech the next day, he spent more time talking about Gaza than the passing of Mr. Raisi. At the president's funeral, the interior minister stated that dealing with his death would not be difficult.

The rescue efforts raised more doubts among Iranians. First responders in the Red Crescent were shocked to find that rescue teams were not allowed to fly in to search for the president and had to travel by foot instead. They also found it hard to believe the delays they faced in getting to the site. Many in Iran also found it odd that the two helicopters escorting the president managed to return safely to Tabriz. An insider from the government noted, “Despite sanctions, the president's plane undergoes thorough inspections.”

The early descriptions of “a hard landing” and the released by officials were misleading. In reality, the helicopter had exploded.

The Red Crescent is an humanitarian organization similar to the Red Cross. It operates in Muslim countries and provides emergency aid and disaster relief, much like the Red Cross does globally. The name “Red Crescent” is used instead of “Red Cross” in many Islamic countries to avoid the Christian symbolism of the cross.

First responders are the emergency service personnel who are among the first to arrive and provide assistance at the scene of an emergency, such as an accident, natural disaster, or terrorist attack. This includes paramedics, firefighters, and police officers.

A “hard landing” refers to a situation where an aircraft, like a plane or helicopter, touches down with more force than usual during its landing, which can be jarring and potentially damaging but is generally not catastrophic.

Mr. Khamenei is Strongly motivated to downplay this , as well as any other crisis. Being old in age, he is deeply concerned with determining his successor as supreme leader.

Iran's population, close to 90 million, are exhausted by the frequent shocks that disrupt their country. Since Soleimani's assassination, Iran's currency has lost over half its value. Additionally, there have been widespread protests against the morality police of the Islamic Republic.

Morality police are law enforcement units responsible for enforcing social and moral codes as defined by the government, often based on religious laws. In countries like Iran, they monitor public behaviour, dress codes, and social interactions to ensure compliance with Islamic norms and values.

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the ayatollahs have carried out their first direct attack on Israel. The ayatollahs are senior clerics in Iran who hold significant power and influence, guiding both the religious and political life of the country under its theocratic system.

Among all the five presidents who have served under Mr. Khamenei, Mr. Raisi was seen as the most devoted. He was widely expected to be the next supreme leader due to his close alignment with Mr. Khamenei's interests over the years. Critics often described Mr. Raisi as uncharismatic and not particularly clever, with one exiled Iranian political expert jokingly saying he has the personality of a doorknob. Despite this, he perfectly met the supreme leader's expectations and requirements.

A “doorknob” in this context is used metaphorically to describe someone who is considered dull and lacking in distinctive or engaging qualities. It suggests that the person doesn't have a strong or interesting personality.

Mr. Raisi was an obedient figure in politics and religion, also recognized as a sayyid, meaning he descended from the Prophet. Importantly, he had no son to start a competing family line. As a prosecutor and judge, he was responsible for the execution of thousands of the government's opponents.

Mr. Khamenei put Mr. Raisi in charge of his extensive operations, which include managing Iran's largest shrine in Mashhad, the country's second-largest city. Later, he appointed him as the head of the judiciary. Eventually, in 2021, he orchestrated a rigged election that led to Mr. Raisi becoming president.

Mr. Raisi was the perfect figurehead, leaving the running of the country to the bayt (means house or household), Mr. Khamenei's extensive household led by his son, Mojtaba. “When you met with him, he'd only discuss things like whether you'd had lunch,” recalls an exiled Iranian who knew Raisi during his time managing Khamenei's business empire in Mashhad.

Things didn't go as planned. To Mojtaba, another candidate for succession, it appeared that Mr. Raisi was overstepping. Despite not having the proper qualifications, Mr. Raisi started calling himself an ayatollah, a title necessary for becoming the supreme leader.(Mr. Khamenei deliberately omitted the title in his eulogy.)

Supporters called his wife, a university lecturer, the “first lady,” a title previously unheard of in Iran. He was also supported by his father-in-law, Ahmad Alamolhoda, the most influential cleric in eastern Iran.

So confident was he that he had a public confrontation with Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf, the long-serving speaker of parliament and a close relative of Mr. Khamenei, who also had business connections with the bayt. Recently, his recognition on the global stage had increased. He worked on enhancing Iran's relationships with neighbouring countries, including visits to Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan (tragically, he died on his way back from this trip). He also headed delegations to the United Nations in New York and to Beijing. In Persian culture, there's a saying for someone who is becoming more prominent: “he had grown a tail.”

“He had grown a tail” is a Persian expression meaning someone has gained significant importance or influence, often becoming more noticeable or prominent in their actions or status.

Some in the bayt also worried that a strong group of Mr. Khamenei's adversaries within the government might rally around Mr. Raisi. Among them are clerics determined to stop the Khamenei family from turning a revolution against a monarchy into a new dynasty; nationalist generals in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) frustrated with focusing on minor issues like enforcing veil-wearing; and influential families like the Rafsanjanis, who had previously lost power struggles with Mr. Khamenei but still held considerable wealth. According to a former Iranian minister, “Mojtaba benefits the most from Raisi's death.”

The regime has many ways to manage any unrest following Mr. Raisi's death. According to the constitution, Iran must hold presidential elections within 50 days. A vote is scheduled for June 28, but Mr. Khamenei is skilled at manipulating the outcomes.

The Guardian Council usually only lets its chosen candidates run in elections. In the 2021 presidential election, it allowed just seven out of hundreds of candidates to compete. Revolutionary courts handle any dissent from religious schools and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) against the government's increasing control.

Possible candidates include Mohammad Mukhber, the interim president who is a loyal bureaucrat overseeing the bayt's extensive business operations, and Saeed Jalili, a staunch conservative and former presidential candidate. Their history of poor economic management and extreme views might lower voter turnout. However, Mr. Khamenei appears unconcerned about the low voter participation seen in recent elections. For him, the theocratic rule of wilayat al-fagih, or the rule of the jurist, which operates without accountability, is more important than elected institutions.

One way the aspiring supreme leader could reconnect with Iranians is by reinstating popular officials that the regime has sidelined. A day after Mr. Raisi's death, Muhammad Javad Zarif, the former foreign minister who negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other global powers, reappeared from clutches of armed guard surveillance to give an interview on state television. He dutifully blamed the helicopter crash on American sanctions restricting spare parts. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former populist president who had disagreements with Mr. Khamenei, also appeared on television wearing a white shirt instead of the traditional black attire for mourning.

The most likely path for Iran seems to be the installation of a new president who is aligned with the military hardliners supporting the regime. Additionally, Mojtaba Khamenei is expected to follow in his father's footsteps as the supreme leader. Without public support or a strong personal base, Mojtaba would rely heavily on his hardline supporters. As the regime remains cut off from global markets, both it and the would continue to deteriorate. Growing public discontent and internal power struggles could lead to a more oppressive and aggressive government in Iran, which would have serious effects on both its people and neighbouring countries.

However, there might be a different route. Succession could potentially trigger Iran's modernization. According to a former official familiar with him, Mojtaba is fascinated by the approach of Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman. If Mojtaba were to emulate the Saudi crown prince, his confidante suggests, he might loosen Iran's religious restrictions, free political prisoners, and pursue better relations with America and possibly Israel. The confidante believes that if Iranians were offered this deal in exchange for maintaining the dictatorship, about two-thirds would agree. And there wouldn't be a figure like Mr. Raisi at the top to block these changes. It's an appealing idea, but unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran has a long history of popular movements and democratic struggles. The shah, a previous secular leader, discovered this the hard way in 1979. Trying to modernize the country through absolute power in a place as complex and diverse as Iran can lead to a supreme leader's downfall. (IPA Service)




The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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