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Iran faces turmoil following its president and foreign minister’s deaths, but continuity is crucial, regardless of June's election outcome.

Ebrahim Raisi with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2016 : Mohammad Ali Marizad, Tasnim News CC by 4.0 Ebrahim Raisi with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2016 : Mohammad Ali Marizad, Tasnim News CC by 4.0

Iran faces turmoil following its president and foreign minister’s deaths, but continuity is crucial, regardless of June’s election outcome.

Winston Churchill is said to have commented on Soviet politics that it was like watching several dogs fighting underneath a large carpet — it was impossible to determine which was winning. The same could be applied to internal politics in post-revolutionary Iran.

On the face of it, the deaths  of former Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister Hossein Abdollahianin a helicopter crash in the mountains of north-western Iran was a simple accident. That explanation was made even more plausible by the fact that they were in a US-made helicopter the Shah’s government bought in the 1970s for which, owing to US sanctions, spare parts were difficult to obtain.

But secrecy, a hallmark of the Iranian regime, begets conspiracy.

Speculation began immediately about whether Raisi’s death was the result of regime infighting in anticipation of the election of a new Supreme Leader, given that the incumbent, Ali Khamenei, is 85 and reported to be in poor health. Some claimed to see evidence in pictures of the wreckage that the helicopter had exploded, rather than crashed.

A hardline legacy

Whether his death was an accident or something nefarious, few Iranians will mourn Raisi. A hardline prosecutor in the early years of the Islamic Republic, he presided over tribunals that sentenced thousands of Iranian protesters to death in the 1980s.

Having risen to Chief Justice of Iran by 2021, his election to the presidency that year was widely regarded as a sham — he won an unlikely 72 percent of the vote on a turnout of 49 percent of eligible voters, the lowest in the history of the Islamic republic.

In 2022 he cracked down mercilessly on the women’s rights demonstrations that followed the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested over “bad hijab” — failing to cover her hair sufficiently. More than 500 protesters were killed and 20,000 arrested and tortured, according to the UN Human Rights Council.

He refused to make compromises in negotiations with the US Biden administration that might have restored the deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief , from which former US President Trump withdrew in 2018. In consequence inflation in February this year was 35.8 percent and the black market value of the Iranian rial has plummeted.

Emphasis on continuity

Supreme Leader Khamenei has been at pains since Raisi’s death to assure Iranians that nothing concerning the country’s governance or external relations will change.

The constitution stipulates that a new president is to be elected within 50 days of the incumbent’s death, and preparations are in process for that to occur on June 28. In the meantime the First Vice President, Mohammad Mokhber, will act as president.

No indications of likely candidates have yet emerged. But these will need to be vetted by the 12-person Guardian Council, currently dominated by hardliners, to ensure their Islamic credentials and loyalty to the regime. In 2021 the Council disqualified over 500 nominees before allowing seven to run.

Given that conservatives are in the ascendancy, it’s probably a safe bet that the new president will be in the mould of Raisi.

Voter turnout is likely to be low — elections for the parliament earlier this year drew only 41 percent of eligible voters, reflecting popular disillusion with the regime. Any attempt to make the election genuinely competitive, by allowing reformist candidates to stand, would risk generating popular debate that the regime might struggle to control.

Whatever the outcome, Khamenei is right in saying that nothing is likely to change. Khamenei, in alliance with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), calls the shots on policy, with the president executing his wishes.

“Axis of Resistance” to remain in place

The conservative governance of Iran will continue as will its anti-American and anti-Israeli stances.

Iran will continue to further its interests in the Middle East by its leadership of the “Axis of Resistance”, comprising Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthi rulers of Yemen.

Iran will continue to provide vocal support to Hamas in Gaza but will not want it or its proxies to be drawn into a major war with Israel. Iran fired 350 missiles and drones at Israel in April in retaliation for an Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, but then made clear it proposed no further military action.

Iran’s nuclear program will continue. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in February this year indicated that Iran has sufficient uranium enriched to 60 percent purity to make three nuclear weapons if further enriched to 90 percent, a short technical step.

The big question: who will replace Khamenei?

The main uncertainty arising from Raisi’s death is its impact on the election of the next Supreme Leader. The position is selected by the Assembly of Experts, an 88-person body of Islamic scholars, charged with ensuring the new leader’s decisions accord with Islamic doctrine.

Khamenei had been president before becoming only the second Supreme Leader on the death of the regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, in 1989.

Given Khamenei’s age and the likelihood that Raisi would have been elected for a second term next year if he had lived, it was assumed in and outside Iran that Raisi would be a strong candidate for the leadership along with Khamenei’s second son, Mojtaba, who is a close adviser to his father.

With Raisi now out of the picture, the chances of Mojtaba assuming the top job have strengthened. If that forecast is borne out, the decades-long hardline regional strategic policy Khomeini and Khamenei have maintained in turn will certainly continue.

But given the opaque nature of internal Iranian politics, other candidates may be quietly making their claims.

Ian Parmeter is a Research Scholar at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University. He worked for 25 years in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and had several postings in the Middle East including as Ambassador in Beirut. He was subsequently Assistant Director-General in the Office of National Assessments overseeing analyses of Middle East and South Asia issues.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

Editors Note: In the story “FUTURE OF IRAN” sent at: 24/05/2024 16:17.

This is a corrected repeat.

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