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Raisi’s Death May Disrupt Engineered Succession Plans in Iran

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President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash is likely to impact the succession process for the 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

A new session of the Assembly of Experts, the body responsible for selecting the next leader of the Islamic Republic, was scheduled to begin on Tuesday, May 21. Whether the session will proceed as planned remains uncertain. Although Khamenei has declared five days of public mourning, the Majles (Parliament) has announced it will hold its session as usual on Tuesday.

However, Tuesday’s session of the Assembly of Experts was particularly significant as an internal vote would be held on the opening day to determine the Assembly’s new chairman and his deputies.

According to Iranian reporters Ebrahim Raisi who was the Assembly’s most senior deputy chairman was the most likely candidate for the post of chairman. As the search was taking place for Raisi’s body on Sunday, Iran International analyst Morad Veisi highlighted the significance of the session and Raisi’s intended role in it. Since the election of the next Supreme Leader will depend on a relatively small group of clerics and politicians, the chairman’s role would be a crucial factor.

Meanwhile, alluding to conspiracy theories about the crash, Hossein Bastani, another Iranian analyst, reposted a line from one of his previous writings about succession in Iran while emphasizing that Khamenei’s old age calls for more attention to succession in the coming round of the Assembly of Experts.

Bastani wrote: “The Leader has reached an age that insiders worrying for their interests in the future see no solution other than ripping each other apart.” Most users commenting under the post were adamant that the helicopter crash was “engineered”.

Several Iranian analysts, including Mehdi Khalaji, who spoke to Iran International TV in recent weeks, have said that Raisi was expected to play a key role as a kingmaker in the Assembly of Experts, potentially grooming Khamenei’s son Mojtaba or a group of clerics for the country’s leadership.

Although many speculated about Raisi being a contender for the position of Supreme Leader, analysts, including Khalaji, believe his role would have been limited to influencing the selection of the next leader. His task would have been to assist those operating behind the scenes in steering the Islamic Republic in a way that secures their power and financial interests.

In another talk show on Iran International, Khalaji said that as Khamenei made most of the key decisions in Iran and other politicians are not capable of handling major domestic political and international issues, his absence on the scene will bring about a serious crisis in Iran.

Key players, such as elements within the IRGC, may strike deals with others to seize political power. However, analysts suggest that the crisis may take much longer to resolve, potentially leading to the regime’s collapse, similar to the Soviet Union’s downfall, requiring the announcement of the end of the current regime and the start of a new one.

Khalaji, however, emphasizes that moderates or reformists have no chance of taking over the government due to a change in leadership, as this would imply a shift in ideology.

He suggests that the faction of the IRGC with economic ambitions is more likely to maintain the current ideology while negotiating some form of compromise with the rest of the world, breaking the deadlock in relations with the United States, and becoming a more acceptable international player.

However, Khalaji warns that the more likely outcome is “power falling into the hands of someone who has a weapon in one hand and the key to a prison in the other.”