Will Ahmadinejad be Iran’s last president?
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures as he delivers a speech in front of portraits of Iran's late founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (L) and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R). (Getty Images)
October 25th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Will Ahmadinejad be Iran’s last president?

Editor's Note: Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian – Israeli Middle East analyst and the co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and The State of IranThe following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region.

By Meir JavedanfarThe Diplomat

The message from Iran’s most powerful man was clear: the post of president could be removed sometime in the future. If this happened, the parliamentary system could instead be used to elect officials holding executive power. ‘There would be no problem in altering the current structure,’ stated Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a speech in the city of Kermanshah on Sunday.

What we have here is a tussle between Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over their respective legacies. And Khamenei is taking this matter so seriously that he’s threatening to remove the very position of the presidency altogether. For now, this is only a threat. But it’s one that can’t be ignored, especially by Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad isn’t eligible to run for president again when his term expires in June 2013, as Iran’s Constitution is clear a president can run for only two consecutive terms. To ensure his legacy, then, Ahmadinejad seems to be backing his right hand man Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as a presidential candidate. Ahmadinejad likely hopes that with Mashaei as president, he will be able to retain a powerful cabinet position – think an Iranian twist on what Vladimir Putin has done in Dmitry Medvedev’s government. When Mashaei finishes his four year term, Ahmadinejad would then be able to use his likely high profile in Meshai’s government as a platform to develop a renewed bid for the presidency.

This concerns Khamenei, and rightly so.

Mashaei is an extremely divisive figure. Many conservatives despise him. For some, it is because of reports that he married a former member of the opposition Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which he was interrogating in the early 1980s, as well as reports that his brother was also member of the same organization. Others, though, are furious that he said publicly that the people of Iran have no problem with the people of Israel.

Jealousy is another factor. Soon after Meshai’s daughter married Ahmadinejad's son, his political career started to take off. From once being a virtually unknown politician, these days Mashaei is seen as Ahmadinejad’s right hand man (some even speculate that it’s Mashaei that holds the real power in the Ahmadinejad government).

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But the animosity felt toward Mashaei isn’t confined to Iranian politicians – even Ahmadinejad’s brother Davood has been attacking him publicly. Ahmadinejad’s son-in-law, Mehdi Khorshidi, meanwhile, has joined in on the attacks against Meshai. Some believe that Davood left his post as chief of the presidential inspection unit because of Meshai.

It’s clear, then, that if Mashaei runs for president, it will create ferocious pitched political battles inside Iranian politics, conflicts that could even spark violence. This is the last thing Khamenei needs for a regime that already faces sanctions and a host of economic problems, as well as opposition from the Green movement. Khamenei therefore won’t want serious conflict among conservatives, who in the political world of the Islamic Republic are his biggest supporters.

This suggests that the recent warning by Khamenei about the possible removal of the post of president is most probably a warning to Ahmadinejad. It basically says to Ahmadinejad that if at any point Khamenei feels that the next election could result in more divisions and violence because of Ahmadinejad's own political plans, then he will be prepared to do away with the post entirely. (Khamenei could also be concerned about the reaction to possible plans by Tehran Mayor Mohammed-Baqer Qalibaf to run as president, as many ultra conservatives oppose him as well).

But Khamenei is also worried about his own legacy.

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After taking up the post of supreme leader in 1989, Khamenei had a difficult relationship with his first two presidents, Ali Akbar HashemiRafsanjani and Seyed MohammadKhatami. Ahmadinejad, who entered office in 2005, therefore seemed a breath a fresh air. During his first term, he was to Khamenei what Khamenei himself was as president to Ayatollah Khomeini – an enthusiastic and obedient soldier who followed his commander. These are the same qualities that endeared Khamenei to Khomeini. According to Baqer Moin, author of Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah, this is why during Khomeini’s 10-year reign, he received Khamenei more than 150 times – more than any other official in his entire government. However, this quickly ended during Ahmadinejad's second term, when the president was seen as challenging as Khamenei.

It’s unclear how long Khamenei has left as supreme leader. For the sake of the remainder of his term in office, he may have decided that he doesn’t want to work with a president anymore – that he has had enough. This isn’t the first time. When serving as president between 1981 and 1989, he had severe problems working with then-Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. So bad was the relationship that it has been reported that Mousavi tried to resign, only staying on because of Khomeini’s insistence.

Back then, as president, Khamenei couldn’t do much. But when he became supreme leader, he didn’t object to the position of prime minister being eliminated by a change in the Constitution.  Now he could do the same with the post of the president. With stability a concern, why not rip out the co-pilot seat and captain the plane of the Islamic Republic alone? After all, quarrelling with the co-pilot can be distracting, and could ultimately cause the plane to crash. And with the new set up, the parliament would be too weak to pose any challenge to regime stability.

Khamenei could also be planning for his own succession, as removing the post of president would have an impact on Iran’s next supreme leader as well. It’s possible that he has already decided that his son Mojtaba should take over, or that another, weaker, figure should replace him with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) manning the political levers of the country.

Read: Is Iran Ready to Compromise?

With these kinds of scenarios in mind, Khamenei may have decided that having a president could create division, division that the regime’s foes might exploit. With this in mind, and to ensure a smooth transition of power to the next supreme leader – and  clear lines of authority after he takes the helm – it would be better to drop the post of president.

Ali Khamenei had less legitimacy than Khomeini, which explains why he felt threatened by his presidents. And Mojtaba Khamenei would have even less legitimacy than Ali Khamenei. With this in mind, it really is tempting to ask why he should bother having a president at all.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Meir Javedanfar.

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Topics: Iran

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Al Khamenei was howling his threat again. If he meant to give Ahamdinejad sleepness nights, I doubt if it had worked. He has no other choices than either letting Ahmadinejad sit out or getting rid of him before 2013. It will be interesting to see how this brawl between the two would come out. Al Khamenei, 72 years old and a cleric for most of his life, has been in power for 30 years. As the first president of the Islamic Republic after the revolution of 1979, he had little power and was committed to the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision of freedom and Islamic democracy. His loyalty paid off and was elected as supreme leader after Khomeni’s death, a surprise to everybody. He gradually made himself the most powerful man in Iran by having the Revolutionary Guard on his side.

    October 25, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  2. Judu

    This just got posted. Enjoy your last night in Ft St John-Mel

    October 25, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  3. johnny

    Like I said before, The Revolutionary Guard have finally succeeded in taking full control and are now giving orders. The clerics have been pushed to the sideways, they no longer have any chance to be heard by ordinary Iranians.

    The scene is set I think for Iran to become the World's next big volatile headache, in the Middle East.

    Iran, I think , have reasons to be an aggressor against the soon to be democratised Arab states. The obvious threat of Arab Spring dislodging the Revolutionary Guard.

    I would not be surprised if the Guards have plans to disrupt new democracies from forming in the other Gulf states. Because by not doing anything would make their endanger their own survival

    October 25, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  4. johnny

    Like I said before, The Revolutionary Guard have finally succeeded in taking full control and are now giving orders. The clerics have been pushed to the sideways, they no longer have any chance to be heard by ordinary Iranians.

    The scene is set I think for Iran to become the World's next big volatile headache, in the Middle East.

    Iran, I think , have reasons to be an aggressor against the soon to be democratised Arab states. The obvious threat of Arab Spring dislodging the Revolutionary Guard.

    I would not be surprised if the Guards have plans to disrupt new democracies from forming in the other Gulf states. Because by not doing anything would endanger their survival

    October 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  5. Franco De Lassel

    The entire theocracy is going to implode... Oppression won't keep the people of Iran from feeling the need for change and Democracy..They want to follow Turkey's lead and find a secular country with an Islamic bent..The people of Iran don't want war, they want regime change..Some of the old guard mixed with the Republican Guard will be difficult adversaries, but they will be defeated by the people of Iran. The Arab Spring has shown that freedom is worth fighting for..Iranians don't want their Government to target Israel with Nuclear weapons as the end results will be beyond tragic..It is time for regime change and Ahmandinajab and Khameni should head to Mozimbique now, while they still can escape the wrath of the Iranian people..

    November 9, 2011 at 11:58 am | Reply
  6. nader

    well that would be nice. I feel Ahmadinejad is somewhat misinterpreting the holy quran for his own sake!
    Nowhere in the Quran has it said to kill people.
    It is not up to us to judge anyone.
    “We shall not misinterpret the holy Quran” (Ayatollah Muhammad Rosa Khani”)

    August 8, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
    • dave

      Criminals are stupid therefore stupidity is a crime!? Ahmadinejad.

      October 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  7. dave

    Lack of west understanding of the middle east culture due to the west's ego of only lecturing and talking but refusing to listen for a only 1% of the same length of time that west have been lecturing the people with their lies and Hollywood propaganda has blinded and prejudiced the west to understand that even if the dollar becomes so scarce that it be eliminated from the Iranian society it will not stop the advancement and growth of this 10,0000 years old Bazaar culture but will help its independence and self reliance to flourish even more due to its resiliency and independence!? Just compare current Iranian technology and advancements VS the US puppet dictator shah over 30 years ago!?

    October 16, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  8. dave

    Iran has never been an aggressive country!? "What we do not know about the future is the history we do not know!? Truman. Which countries have been raging wars, killing women and children, occupying lands, wiping off natives, taking unjustly, and used nuclear weapon against a non nuclear country in the past 100 years? Does the name Iran ring a bell or the ones who are adverting for a war with Iran? Why should we be afraid of the victim as advertised by the aggressor and the occupiers?! Let's check multiple sources. Media is a profit oriented organization just like a corporation making a profit, sometimes at any cost!?

    October 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  9. dave

    Why do some people speak on behalf of the Iranian people as to the type of the government they want?! Isn't the real intention to promote the type of the government that they want, themselves and not the Iranian people!? In 1979 there was an election for the Iranians all over the world to vote for a government and 98% voted for the Islamic Republic of Iran (Check the history data: i.e. UN, International Newspapers and news videos can easily be confirmed on line..) and ever since Iran has had more than 20 elections, electing city councils, MP's, Presidents, and leaders (Leader is elected by the Guardian Counsel of which the members are elected by direct vote of the Iranians) contrary to our dictator puppet allies such as Saudi, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, UAE, Yemen, etc). Iran is the first in science and technology in the middle east and within the top 10 countries in the world with space program, nuclear technology, Nano technology, exporting over 30 thousands doctors and scientists annually to the world, contrary to the our dictator allies exporting terrorism, poverty, killing, wars and disaster, making refugees of the deprived around the world while blaming the victim!? Doesn't invading countries and starting aggression causes terror!? Isn't terrorism creating terror, killing women and children, and demolishing homes!? Can there be any justification for that!? Western justification is human rights, freedom, democracy in talk only, to deceive the people but in action the real intention is to deprive the natives of the same basic rights people strive for in the world and the west preaches. Just review the world wars, events, reasons, and pursuing results in the past 100 years!?

    October 16, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply

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