Raisi’s Death Throws Iran’s Leadership Succession into Turmoil Amidst Rising Discontent
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By Alexander Turner*

The death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter accident has plunged the country into political uncertainty, complicating an already fraught succession process. The crash, which occurred in a remote area of northwestern Iran, also claimed the lives of Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the representative of the Supreme Leader in Tabriz, and the governor-general of Eastern Azerbaijan province.

Raisi’s untimely death is a significant event, marking the second time an Iranian president has died in office since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The first was Mohammad Ali Rajaei, who was assassinated in 1981 by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq Organization, a militant group. However, the contexts of these two deaths are markedly different.

Under Iran’s political system, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds ultimate authority. At 85, Khamenei’s advanced age has heightened the urgency of determining his successor. Raisi, who had been groomed for higher office and was seen as a key contender, was central to these plans. His death opens the door to other potential candidates amid severe economic problems, domestic discontent, and escalating tensions with Israel.

Potential Successors:

  • Mojtaba Khamenei: The second son of the Supreme Leader and his close aide, Mojtaba Khamenei, has long been considered a frontrunner.
  • Alireza Arafi: A prominent member of the Assembly of Experts, which formally selects the Supreme Leader, Arafi is another potential candidate.
  • Ahmad Alam-ol-Hoda: Raisi’s father-in-law and a powerful figure in Mashhad, Alam-ol-Hoda is a significant player in the succession drama.
  • Ahmad Khatami: A hardliner and member of both the Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council, Khatami has been vocal against protesters and is on the EU sanctions list.

Raisi’s death disrupts the choreography for the Assembly of Experts, which was to convene soon and select its new presidium leader. Raisi, deputy head of the presidium, was a frontrunner for this position, which would have given him significant influence over choosing Khamenei’s successor. A new election in South Khorasan province will now be necessary to fill his seat.

Under Article 131 of Iran’s Constitution, Vice President Mohammad Mokhber Dezfouli will temporarily assume the presidency. A council comprising the Parliament Speaker, the Judiciary Chief, and the First Vice President must organize new presidential elections within 50 days.

Likely Candidates:

  • Mohammad Mokhber Dezfouli: Known for managing significant financial conglomerates, Mokhber is a probable candidate.
  • Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf: The current speaker of parliament and a former Tehran mayor, Qalibaf has run for president three times before.

Voter turnout has been historically low in recent elections, reflecting widespread disillusionment with the political system. The regime might introduce reformist figures to rekindle voter interest. One such figure is Es’haq Jahangiri, former vice president under Hassan Rouhani. Jahangiri has attempted to distance himself from Rouhani, which could improve his chances of passing the Guardian Council’s vetting process, though he lacks strong popular support.

While Raisi’s death adds a layer of complexity to Iran’s leadership succession and political landscape, it is unlikely to herald major changes for the Iranian populace. The hardline doctrine guiding both domestic and foreign policies is expected to persist, maintaining the status quo despite the upcoming elections and leadership shifts. As Iran navigates this turbulent period, the international community will be watching closely, particularly given the ongoing regional instability and economic challenges facing the nation.


*Alexander Turner’s contributions to Smartencyclopedia and look forward to his continued work in enlightening our readers on the ever-evolving landscape of diplomacy, geopolitics, international relations, and social sciences.

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