by Lawrence A. Franklin
- The process of selecting the successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei already seems underway.
- President Rouhani, government cabinet officers, and deputies of the Majles (consultative assembly/parliament) usually have little to no influence in the vetting process of candidates.
- The Revolutionary Guards, ranking intelligence officers, and the regime's plutocrats do not want to elevate anyone with an independent power base or a charismatic personality.
- Whoever is ultimately selected, regime stability at least for the next few years seems assured: anti-regime networks remain shredded after the 2009 nationwide protests were violently suppressed.
While U.S. policymakers, media talking-heads and many think tank pundits are fixated on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and Tehran's nuclear weapons projects, the focus of Iran's power-brokers is on regime continuity and leadership succession. Iran's next parliamentary elections are scheduled for February 26, 2016.
The process of selecting the successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei already seems underway. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) hinted as much, according to a Reuters report. The aging first generation of the 1979 Islamic Revolution's leadership are determined to maintain regime stability during the transition to a new rahbar (leader) upon the retirement or death of Khamenei.
Those institutions that will play a large role in the selection process include: ranking members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), senior clergy in Qom, members of the Assembly of Experts, and the Council of Guardians.
President Hassan Rouhani, government cabinet officers, and deputies of the Majles (consultative assembly/parliament) usually have little to no influence in the vetting process of candidates.
Some Western media commentary, which can be inclined to mirror imaging -- assuming "they" are like "us" -- has hinted that former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is a serious contender. This is not so. The 81-year-old Rafsanjani was long ago pushed to the side by political and religious hardline acolytes of the current leadership. As early as 2011, when Rafsanjani's personal website registered growing popularity in a poll, it was shut down. Another sign of Rafsanjani's marginalization is the decision by the Council of Guardians to disqualify him from submitting his candidacy for the Presidency in the 2012 presidential election. Still another is the dearth of coverage of the former president in Iran's media. In one recent case, Iranian state television and the regime's leading daily newspaper, Keyhan, appeared to excise his photo from a public event where he sat near Khamenei. Another sign is his reduced role in the 82-member Assembly of Experts, which holds its next election in February 2016. Rafsanjani was also defeated by Khamenei ally, Ayatollah Mohamad Yazdi, in a recent election for the Assembly's Speakership.
The likely successor to Khamenei will be chosen from a vetting process that is probably already underway.
The next Supreme Leader likely will be selected from the following pools of talent: Tehran Friday Prayer Leaders, the Council of Guardians, and Iran's Judiciary.
But if Khamenei's demise is sudden, an interim leader may be selected from Qom's several senior Ayatollahs.
The next Supreme Leader, however, is likely to be just as colorless as the present occupant of the office: the IRGC, ranking intelligence officers, and the regime's plutocrats do not want to elevate anyone with an independent power base or a charismatic personality. They do they want someone like Rafsanjani who is independently wealthy and considered politically unreliable by hardliners. Nor will they be content with the radical hardline cleric, Mesbah Yazdi, who once was close to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, Yazdi has been of late an exuberant, public supporter of Khamenei, especially since Ahmadinejad's fall from favor.
One candidate who may be a serious contender for the office of Supreme Leader is the current chief of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani. Nevertheless, whoever is ultimately selected, regime stability at least for the next few years seems assured: anti-regime networks remain shredded after the 2009 nationwide protests were violently suppressed.
Out with the old, in with the new?
A serious contender to replace Ayatollah Khamenei (center) in the office of Supreme Leader is Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani (right). (Image source: Office of Supreme Leader)
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.
 The Assembly of Experts is mandated by Article 111 of the Islamic Constitution of Iran to monitor the probity of the Supreme Leader's behavior. Theoretically, it has the power to remove the Supreme Leader. Its influence has waned during the later years of Ayatollah Khamenei's term as Supreme Leader. The Assembly consists of 86 members who are scholars and clerics. They are elected to eight-year terms.
 The Council of Guardians is a 12-member body of six clerics and six laymen who have the authority to rule on the constitutionality of all recommendations passed by the Majles (parliament). The Council is tasked with the responsibility of vetting all candidates for public office.
Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.
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