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Early Ambitions

Is Ebrahim Raisi Being Groomed for the Next Parliamentary Elections?

Monday، January 29، 2018
Early Ambitions

The fundamentalist conservatives in Iran seem to be rearranging their internal political balances to gear up for the coming elections, notably the elections of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament), to be held in 2020, and the presidential elections to be held a year later. One of the most important challenges facing the conservatives is to elect a new leader or figure that will be a symbol of the movement in the coming period, which may also witness the rise of a new supreme leader for the Islamic Republic after Khamenei.

The young mullah 

Against this backdrop, it looks that many trends within the conservatives have started to call for giving Ebrahim Raisi, the current custodian of Razavi shrine in Mashhad, a second chance, after failing in the first test, the last presidential election, held in May 2017 that he lost to the current president, Hassan Rouhani.

According to those trends, Raisi has many privileges which can help him secure consensus among various shades of opinion within the fundamentalists' movement. The first is that he earns the trust of Ali Khamenei, who has not only appointed him as a member of the Expediency Council, who is in charge of developing the high policy of the state -in consultation with the leadership and adjudication of the outstanding disputes between Shura Council and Guardian Council- but has also tasked him to oversee the Razavi shrine, one of the social religious institutions of particular importance to the Iranian regime.

The second is to back many key leaders and cadres in the movement, as evident in the latest presidential elections, in which the movement sought to unite behind one candidate to avoid the impasse in the 2013 elections, when it nominated four conservative figures. This was a major reason for Rouhani to have defeated them easily from the first round.

The third pertains to the reasons of Raisi’s loss in the recent elections, which are attributed to external factors rather than internal ones, such as to allow the present government to complete its objective, i.e., continuing the nuclear agreement, which the regime views as one of the most important achievements during the presidential term of Rouhani, who succeeded in promoting the idea that his presidential agenda should be completed through another four-year term.

Potential opportunities

In parallel, these trends believe that the current phase may provide ample opportunities to reinforce the possible rise of Raisi’s political role during the next phase. First, the potential political crisis that the moderates may face in the next period. The moderates are not set to easily agree on a new candidate for the upcoming presidential election, particularly that President Rouhani will not be running for it. Moreover, there are slim chances to reach consensus on a new candidate, given the many existing differences among the various streams within the movement.

The departure of Hashemi Rafsanjani, in turn, is another factor that detracts from the ability of moderates to reach a consensual candidate who enjoys their support during the upcoming elections. Indeed, Rafsanjani played an instrumental role both in grooming Rouhani for office over the past years and in containing the lingering internal differences. Thus, He prevented such differences from developing into political conflicts that could have weakened the movement in general and reduced its ability to bring reformers, loyal to Vilayat-e Faqih, and traditional conservatives back to power, following their departure because of their support for the demands of the opposition movement against the results of the 2009 presidential elections.

Second, key leaders of the fundamentalist conservatives are currently facing many challenges. The president of Shura Council, Ali Larijani, lacks broad consensus within the movement, because of his keenness to maintain ties with other forces, including those belonging to the moderates, to the extent that he coordinated with them during the last parliamentary elections, one of the reasons that helped him win Qom’s seat again.

Moreover, the occasional differences between the Larijani family, especially Ali Larijani and his brother Sadeq Larijani, head of the judiciary from one hand, and former president Ahmadinejad on the other hand, over corruption accusations directed by the latter, may have negative repercussions on the family within the fundamentalists movement, despite the privileged position bestowed by Khamenei on Sadeq Larjani, to the extent that many political and religious circles shortlist him as a successor to the supreme leader.

In addition, some other leaders also face seemingly significant challenges, such as the former mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who failed more than once in the presidential election, because of his failure to garner the support of major blocs within the fundamentalists.

Aiming for the presidential election

Remarkably, many trends suggest that Raisi may not be a contender against the moderates as much as an opponent to some fundamentalists’ wings. In other words, those who support Raisi may have their eyes set on the presidency of Shura Council, not that of the Islamic Republic, especially since the former will precede the latter by a year.

This means that the political support provided to Raisi at the present stage may be aimed at backing his candidacy for the upcoming Shura council elections and then trying to groom him for the presidency of the Council to replace Larjani. This could enhance his chances to run for the next presidential election, similar to the case of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who became president of the Islamic Republic, after he was president of the Parliament. 

Certainly, what enhances Raisi’s chances is his affiliation with Mashhad, which has substantial religious and political weight, as was obvious in the recent protests which originated from Mashhad and spilled over into other provinces, towns and villages until they reached the capital, Tehran.

Possible obstacles 

Nonetheless, supporting Raisi’s political role may face numerous obstacles. The position of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on these new political arrangements is not yet clear, a position that will have a significant impact on their direction over coming elections.

In addition, external variables will also play a role in determining potential candidates during the next phase, as possible tracks of the nuclear agreement will have consequences on this context. Disagreements between Iran and the United States may reach a critical point, in the wake of the recent U.S. threats to walk away from the deal within four months, in the event that no amendments are made to accommodate the shortcomings identified by Donald Trump’s administration. This coincides with imposing new sanctions on individuals and entities accused of human rights violations, destabilizing the Middle East and supporting the Iranian ballistic missile program.

Hence, it can be argued that the possible political grooming of Raisi during the next period will be at the heart of domestic political interactions in Iran, given the clear correlation between internal political balances and developments on the regional and international arenas.

Keywords: IranRouhaniTehranIRGCEbrahim RaisiKhameni