Home iran Challenges Facing Khamenei; Succession and Lack of Public Trust

Challenges Facing Khamenei; Succession and Lack of Public Trust

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Khamenei’s biggest challenge is winning the nation’s trust. Nearly nine out of ten social media comments about former President Ebrahim Raisi’s death blame Khamenei or his political system for the loss.

This presents a dual challenge for Khamenei: first, regaining the trust of the general public, and second, reassuring political players, including his obedient supporters, that he values their well-being and contributions. His comments about Raisi were notably unappreciative, clearly stating that his absence would not change anything.

President Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash brought the Islamic Republic’s weaknesses to the fore. Hours after the incident, the government could not locate the crash site. Khamenei’s government also seemed to lack a news dissemination and gatekeeping mechanism in place. The chaos in news dissemination about he helicopter crash alerted even regime insiders. Former presidential adviser and top security and intelligence expert Hesamoddin Ashna begged the core of the regime to conduct a serious investigation and not to rule out any possibility.

Hardline conservative member of the Iranian parliament, Mostafa Mirsalim said Raisi’s loss was a catastrophe for the regime and called on Acting President Mohammad Mokhber to investigate all the flaws in the system that led to Raisi’s death.

In the days after the incident, the only response by the government has been to bar the media from analyzing the possible reasons and scenarios that contributed to the death of the country’s president, foreign minister and several other officials.

The next challenge is security. Even while the nation awaited news about the former President’s fate, a gunman in Tehran killed three police officers, including two colonels. The IRGC’s Telegram channel downplayed the incident, describing the gunman as “an evil man” and incorrectly stating that only one officer was a captain and the other two were non-commissioned officers. However, social media users pointed out, based on photos, that two of the victims were indeed colonels.

Another indication of security concerns was the widespread rumor in Tehran that Police Chief General Radan had been assassinated. A pro-government social media activist and former state TV producer urged the government to inform the public about the police chief’s whereabouts and safety to restore a sense of security and reassurance.

Nothing has been done after three days.

Meanwhile, tight security measures around Khamenei during the funeral ceremony for Raisi was eye-catching. Many pointed that out on social media as bodyguards separated him even from the first row of Iranian dignitaries who are usually trusted insiders.

A more existential challenge facing Khamenei is the uncertainty that will most certainly lead to more economic problems for the people and the government. The issue of succession is one of the biggest reasons for the general uncertainty about what the future will bring. In the absence of a mechanism like choosing a crown prince in monarchies, no one can be sure that the succession will be smooth.

The suspicious death of Khomeini’s son, who was a serious contender to succeed the Islamic Republic’s first supreme leader, clearly indicates that after the leader is dead there is no guarantee that his son would be taken care of by those who were loyal to him before his demise.

Meanwhile, in the short run, the June presidential election poses a threat to the coherence of the system, if not its strength. There are dozens of contestants who are uncertain of Khamenei’s true support, with most believing he already knows who will succeed Raisi. Pundits suggest that the public is unlikely to welcome the election for this very reason.

Nonetheless, the rivalry among the contestants is already so fierce that it frightens the nation. Some hardliners accuse one of the most likely contenders, Mehrdad Bazrpash, of possibly being involved in a conspiracy to eliminate Raisi. Others, such as former President Ahmadinejad and former Majles Speaker Larijani, who have previously been disqualified, are almost certain that Khamenei is unlikely to forgive their past mistakes—Ahmadinejad for not being sufficiently obedient and Larijani for allegedly conspiring with Rouhani to share power in a post-Khamenei government.