After Rafsanjani, power vacuum in selection of Iran’s next supreme leader

January 9, 2017 3:15 am

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Photo / AP

The death of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani could have a major influence on key upcoming events.
Rafsanjani, one of the most influential figures in since the Islamic revolution and a driving force for moderation, died at the age of 82 after suffering an apparent heart attack.
Though his power had waned since serving two terms as President from 1989 to 1997, Rafsanjani retained significant clout on the Assembly of Experts that will choose a successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 77 and has been treated for prostate cancer.
His absence also could have an impact on presidential elections in May, when the pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani will seek re-election.
Rouhani, a protege of Rafsanjani, reportedly rushed to the hospital in Tehran where Rafsanjani was taken. He seen leaving the hospital in tears.

His funeral will be on Wednesday, and analysts will be looking for clues that signal whether marginalised reformists will be galvanised to come together or whether hardliners will consolidate their power.Rafsanjani’s death leaves a huge vacuum among moderate Iranians who seek reforms in the country’s political life and economic and cultural openings to the West.
“It’s a loss for the pragmatist and reformist camp,” said Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council. “How big a loss depends on when Khamenei dies, and where Iran is.”
She added: “It depends on where relations stand with the United States and the international community, whether we’re back to a period of hostility, or whether the nuclear deal survives and there’s a kind of detente with the US And we won’t know that until our own new president takes office and puts his policies into effect.”
Rafsanjani was one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic, and an aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, the leader of the 1979 revolution. He was involved in the secret negotiations between Iran and the United States in the 1980s that led to the Iran-Contra scandal. It was one of several Rafsanjani efforts to find a way to mend relations with Washington.
State-run television announced that he had died “after a lifetime of fighting and constant efforts in line with fulfilling the goals of Islam and the revolution”.
During his life, Rafsanjani was a controversial figure. As President, he was reviled by many Iranians, who considered him corrupt because of suspicions he had used his position to enrich his family. He and his intelligence services were also implicated in the assassinations of dissidents in Iran and Europe, and in terrorist attacks on civilians.
“Although Rafsanjani has long been identified as a pragmatist, he was an integral part of the Islamic Republic’s security apparatus, one which tortured dissidents, conducted foreign assassinations and terrorist attacks, and helped cover the Iranian nuclear programme in a shroud of secrecy while soliciting foreign assistance and material,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran analyst with the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.
But in the eyes of many reformists, Rafsanjani redeemed himself when he supported the Green Movement after the 2009 election contested by protesters demanding the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office.
“Since 2009, he was the centre of gravity for reformist and moderate forces,” said Hadi Ghaemi, head of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “Now, in a way, they have lost their godfather.”
Rafsanjani played a key role in Rouhani’s election, even leading Rouhani into Parliament by the hand the first time he visited as President. Rouhani, whose Administration negotiated the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with the United States and five other world powers, is often mentioned as a successor to become supreme leader once Khamenei dies. But the assumption was that Rafsanjani would be alive to help make that happen.
“His chances of winning this power struggle without Rafsanjani pulling for him in the background is now reduced,” said Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council.
Rafsanjani was born in 1934 to a family of farmers in central Iran, and studied theology in Qom with Ayatollah Khomeini. During the 1960s and 1970s, he took part in the Islamic student movement opposing the Shah, and was imprisoned several times.

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily political survivor and multimillionaire mogul who remained among the ruling elite despite moderate views, has died, state TV reported. He was 82.
Iranian media reported he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalised north of Tehran, where doctors performed CPR in vain for nearly an hour and a half before declaring him dead.
A female newscaster’s voice quivered as she read the .
She said Rafsanjani, “after a life full of restless efforts in the path of Islam and revolution, had departed for lofty heaven”.
Rafsanjani’s mix of sly wit and reputation for cunning moves – both in and business – earned him a host of nicknames such as Akbar Shah, or Great King, during a life that touched every major event in Iranian affairs since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
His presence – whether directly or through back channels – was felt in many forms. He was a steady leader in the turbulent years following the overthrow of the US-backed shah, a veteran warrior in the country’s internal political battles and a covert go-between in intrigue such as the Iran-Contra arms deals in the 1980s.

The surprise presidential election in 2013 of Rafsanjani’s political soul mate, Hassan Rouhani, gave the former president an insider role in reform-minded efforts that included Rouhani’s push for direct nuclear talks with Washington.He also was handed an unexpected political resurgence in his later years.
World powers and Iran ultimately struck a deal to limit the country’s nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions.
While Rafsanjani was blocked from the 2013 ballot by Iran’s election overseers – presumably worried about boosting his already wide-ranging influence – the former leader embraced Rouhani’s success.
“Now I can easily die since people are able to decide their fate by themselves,” he reportedly said last March.
However, Rouhani now faces a crucial presidential election in May which will serve as a referendum on the deal and thawing relations with the West.
Rafsanjani was sharply critical of a move by Iran’s constitutional watchdog to block moderates, including Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder, from running for a top clerical body in elections last year.
Rafsanjani was a close aide of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and served as President from 1989 to 1997 during a period of significant changes in Iran.

At the time, the country was struggling to rebuild its economy after a devastating 1980-88 war with Iraq, while also cautiously allowing some wider freedoms, as seen in Iran’s highly regarded film and media industry.
He also oversaw key developments in Iran’s nuclear programme by negotiating deals with Russia to build an energy-producing reactor in Bushehr, which finally went into service in 2011 after long delays.
Behind the scenes, he directed the secret purchase of technology and equipment from Pakistan and elsewhere.
Rafsanjani managed to remain within the ruling theocracy after leaving office, but any dreams of taking on a higher-profile role collapsed with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009 and the intense crackdown that followed.
Rafsanjani’s harsh criticism of Ahmadinejad branded him as a dissenter in the eyes of many conservatives.
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