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Who Benefits from Raisi’s Death?




BDP, 21 May 2024: In the hours after the news of the helicopter crash carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian, various details were emerging about their deaths. But finally, on Monday, the authorities confirmed their deaths.

Iran is not considered a country where the president will be killed in an accident. But plane crashes occur regularly in the country. Being internationally isolated, poor infrastructure is blamed for this.

At least two cabinet members and two top military commanders have been killed in similar accidents in previous years. The helicopter carrying Raisi and his companions was in the skies over northwestern Iran, known for its foggy and mountainous countryside. This ‘happening’ may just be an accident.

However, there will inevitably be doubts surrounding this disaster. Doubts still arise about the plane crashes that killed senior political leaders. For example, accidents in Northern Rhodesia (1961), China (1971), Pakistan (1988), and Poland (2010). In such a case, like past events, the speculation is fueled by a question: who will benefit politically from Raisi’s death? The answer to this question, however, will not definitively tell why the helicopter crashed. But the answer to this question may shed light on what will happen in Iran in the future.

Raisi was elected president in 2021. It was the least contested election in the country since 1997. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ensured that no important candidate could contest. Among those disqualified were not only reformists but moderate conservatives as well. There was even hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – whom Khamenei considered a rival.

Raisi was very thoughtfully nominated. Because it was assumed that he would never become a significant rival to Khamenei. In 2017, he could not show any of his charisma in the debate with the then-President Hassan Rouhani. He has not only proved his inefficiency during his tenure since 2021, but he has also highlighted that he is not smart politically. Many called him the invisible president. During the women’s movement of 2022-23, protesters did not want to waste time and effort chanting against him. Because they knew, the real power was someone else.

It was important to Khamenei that Raisi stay on the path they had shown. He did not have many rivals in the race for the presidency. Raisi may have more blood on his hands than any of Iran’s living former officials.

Iran has executed thousands of dissidents since the 1980s. The judiciary worked for the government to execute this massacre. Raisi was at its helm from the start. He became the head of the judiciary in 2019. He was dubbed the ‘Butcher of Tehran’ for this role.

This ability made Raisi the safest choice as president for the religious ruling class. That also made him a possible successor to Khamenei as supreme leader. According to Iran’s constitution, only religious leaders with significant political experience can become head of state.

Most religious leaders with these qualifications have died or become politically marginalized (many disliked Khamenei’s hardline politics), leaving the field empty for Raisi. On the other hand, many political analysts felt that Raisi would have been a weak supreme leader. This would shift the main center of power. For example, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or other centers of power.

Who is in the best position to take such responsibility?

Raisi hails from a special section of Iran’s elite political class. In recent years, other political classes have expressed concern about the ambitions of those around him. He was the guarantor of the holy shrine of the northeastern city of Mashad. It is an economic empire in itself. Raisi married the daughter of the Friday prayer imam of Mashhad.

Raisi’s wife, Jamileh Alamolhoda, played an important public role. They have brought conservatives from outside their political class into their circle. These conservatives feared that the Mashhad group might come to power after Khamenei’s death.

Raisi’s apparent inaction led to a readiness to challenge him from among the hardliners. These hardliners saw a weak presidency as an opportunity for their political rise. One of them is the Speaker of the Parliament Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. These hardliners got good votes in the parliamentary elections earlier this year. Although this fight was mainly within the fanatics. Many branches of the conservative mainstream political parties and the IRGC support Qalibaf.

For these reasons, Raisi’s death could change the balance of power between different groups in Iran. According to Iran’s constitution, First Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber will assume the presidency. A council comprising Mokhber, Qalibaf, and Chief Justice Gholam Hossein Mohseni will organize the elections within 50 days.

Regarding the political consequences of Raisi’s death, an Iranian official said that Qalibaf would become the new president.

Who benefits from Raisi’s death?

Qalibaf’s ambitions are not news to many. Since 2005, he has been a candidate for the presidential election several times. He is an ideal technocrat. He was a commander of the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq war. As a result, the force may have support for him. During his tenure as the mayor of Tehran from 2005-2017, he was accused of various inefficiency and corruption. Qalibaf’s political rivals have recently exposed a corruption scandal involving him and his family. An official close to former President Rouhani said, Qalibaf’s problem is that he wants too much. Everyone knows that he has no principles and will do anything for power.

If Qalibaf becomes a candidate in a hastily held election, it may be difficult for the Guardian Council to reject him. Especially because of his deep ties to the Iranian power structure. But would Khamenei be happy to hand over power to a technocrat without sufficient Islamic religious expertise? If not, who will be allowed to run to defeat Qalibaf in the elections, as Ahmadinejad and Rouhani lost in 2005 and 2013 respectively?

Even in such cases, there is a chance of complications. Many former and current officials who supported Qalibaf are again advocating for Khamenei’s son Mojtaba as successor. Mojtaba Khamenei has been hiding for a long time. Little is known about the 54-year-old Mojtaba’s politics or views. However, he is considered by many to be an important candidate for the future supreme leader.

In this case, a compromise between Mojtaba and Qalibaf might open the way to power for both.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founding leader of the Islamic Republic, died in 1989. Khamenei became supreme leader after an unwritten agreement with religious leader Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. At that time, Rafsanjani became the president of Iran. The constitution was quickly amended to give the president more power. But Rafsanjani later suffered from remorse when pushed aside politically before his death. Many Iranians have doubts about the cause of his death in 2017.

Many predicted a power struggle in Iran. But they said it could start after Khamenei’s death.

But now it looks like a dress rehearsal for that fight could be taking place. A fight in which various factions will be looking forward to showing their strength. Many among the Iranian people began to celebrate Raisi’s death. Fireworks were also reported in Tehran.

Most Iranians feel that no party in the Islamic Republic represents them. Some may use a moment of political crisis to revive street protests. Which has also happened against various governments in the past. The country’s opposition is almost tired of years of protests. More than 500 people have been killed in recent protests from 2022 to 2023. Whatever form the struggle for power takes, the Iranian people will not long passively accept it.

– According to The Atlantic

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