Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a former Friday Prayer Imam and a member of the Assembly of Experts says Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was the only choice for the Islamic Republic's next leader when Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeyni died in June 1989.
"We had no other choice," says Emami Kashani, adding that "We could have chosen a group of clerics to form a leadership council, but that was a problematic idea."
Meanwhile, he said in the interview which appeared on the semi-official news agency ISNA's webpage on Monday August 3 that Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri who was the deputy supreme leader was initially opposed to his appointment and believed that Grand Ayatollah Golpayegani would be a better deputy leader.
Emami Kashani also for the first time revealed some information about the ouster of Montazeri. "We were told that Ayatollah Khomeini was planning to dismiss Montazeri from the post of deputy leader. It was at a meeting also attended by Ayatollah Khamenei and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani."
Rafsanjani said dismissing Montazeri would be very dangerous. "Khomeini's son, Ahmad, said Montazeri had made some controversial remarks that led Khomeini to believe he was not good for the post," said Emami Kashani.
Montazeri at the time had opposed Khomeini's idea of hanging thousands of political prisoners in jail.
It is still not clear when the interview with Emami Kashani which appeared on the semi-official news agency ISNA was conducted. It is also not clear why the agency released the interview now after 31 years when the events took place.
Emami Kashani added that when the Assembly of Experts was discussing the idea of a leadership council, Khamenei was meant to be on the council.
He said Khamenei did not want to be the Supreme Leader, but Rafsanjani and I agreed that we had to make a choice quickly as Saddam Hussain's army was still at Iran's borders.
Emami Kashani quoted Khamenei as saying "Most of you do not believe in me as a knowledgeable man. But I told everyone that Khamenei used to teach advanced courses on theology in Mashhad and I was one of his pupils. I then stressed: I bear witness that Mr. Khamenei is a knowledgeable man."
"Then I suggested that we should put the matter to vote even if some people do not approve of his qualifications. First, we took votes for a single leader versus a leadership council and it was approved that we need a single leader," Emami Kashani added.
The reason was that earlier we did away with the Supreme Council of Judiciary and appointed one person as Judiciary Chief, as the idea of leadership council did not work at the Judiciary. By the same token, the Assembly of Experts came to the conclusion that it was best to have one person as Supreme Leader.
"Only a few people did not vote for Ayatollah Khamenei as the Supreme Leader. One of them, Ayatollah Hosseini Kashani, insisted that Montazeri should succeed Khamenei. To be on the fair and safe side, we put the matter to vote and approved Montazeri's ouster.”
Speaking about Khamenei's merits as a "source of emulation," which is one of the highest clerical ranks in Shiism, Emami Kashani does not mention that still many clerics believe Khamenei lacks the qualifications for being a source of emulation. Instead he claims Khamenei had solid credentials. "After the death of Grand Ayatollah Golpayegani and Grand Ayatollah Araki, the clerical community held a debate about who can be a new source of emulation. There were seven candidates for the rank and Ayatollah Khamenei was one of them", he said.
Emami Kashani did not say that Khamenei's credentials as an ayatollah has also been questioned by some clerics and that in fact his title changed from Hojjat ol-Eslam, a lower rank, to one an ayatollah overnight as soon as he became the supreme leader.
Emami Kashani is currently a member of the Assembly of Experts, a body tasked to name the next supreme leader after Khamenei dies. In recent years he has been an outcast at the seminary and had to leave his position as one of the Friday Prayer Imams of Tehran. Regular attendees still remember that he used to lose track of his speech during his latest sermons in 2019 and at times looked lost in the middle of his sermons.