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Can Rouhani Be The Next Leader In Post-Khamenei Iran?

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in the parliament with Ali Larijani

Iranian political observers have offered different insights in recent days regarding the future of political power in Iran while the country is facing the hardest sanctions aimed at changing the Islamic Republic's behavior.

The forecasts deal with possible change of current political dynamics and alliances that might change the shape of the Islamic Republic in the post-Khamenei era.

An observer has suggested that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been changing the division of labor among key players in Iranian politics, delegating some of President Rouhani's authority to others.

Meanwhile, a prominent Iranian activist and political analyst suggests an alliance is being formed by President Hassan Rouhani and Majles Speaker Ali Larijani in a bid to take over political power in Iran in the post-Khamenei era.

A keen Iran watcher, Behnam Gholipour, wrote in a November 7 tweet that "Khamenei is not happy with Rouhani's performance," and suggested that Khamenei was making changes in the political dynamics to make up for Rouhani's weaknesses.

Gholipour said in the tweet that Khamenei has vested a set of new authorities in Ali Larijani to allow him to solve the country's problems.

As an indication of Larijani's new powers, Gholipour reminded that Larijani held meetings with six provincial governors-generals on November 7.

Governors are accountable to the president, not the speaker of parliament, and in this case Larijani acted more like an executive rather than a legislature.

Gholipour added that Khamenei has made hardliner cleric Ebrahim Raisi active in administrative affairs, and further observed that Iran's state TV, which is controlled by Khamenei's office, has broadcast a speech by Raisi simultaneously on three different channels in an unprecedented move to lend him prominence.

On the other hand, in an analysis on Radio Farda's Persian website, Akbar Ganji wrote that Rouhani hopes to replace Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, adding that Rouhani believes that solving the country's political and economic problems depends on friendly relations between Iran and the West, including the United States.

(R-L) Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
(R-L) Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

According to Ganji, Rouhani has never been a reformist and has always thought of himself as a "moderate," although he belonged to Iran's conservative camp.

However, Ganji quoted Rouhani's predecessor and mentor, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, as having said that "Eliminating or marginalizing radical political forces is the precondition for moderates," to take over.

"Rouhani needs to form a coalition in order to attain this objective. He used reformists simply as a ladder to make it to the top," wrote Ganji.

"The reformists are not represented at the Assembly of Experts," said Ganji about the body that determines Iran's next Supreme Leader when he is no longer around. So, "[Rouhani] has been furthering his plans in a coalition with Ali Larijani for a long time now," he added.

Both Rouhani and Rafsanjani characterized Larijani as "moderate conservative."

According to Ganji, Larijani who was a candidate in the 2005 presidential race, is still hopeful to win the position.

"Larijani believes that if he forms an alliance with Rouhani, Iran's reformists would vote for him in the 2021 presidential elections as no reformist figure can get through the net of the vetting process controlled by hardliners at the Guardian Council," Ganji wrote, adding that Rouhani agrees with this idea.

In addition, Larijani's brother. Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani is the powerful head of Iran's judiciary; a fact that can help him in any power-struggle.

According to Ganji, the duo's most important job in the meantime is to marginalize radical elements in the conservative and reformist camps as well as weaken the influence of the military, as they believe this can pave the way for a dialogue with the West and the United States, and for solving the country's economic and non-economic problems.

It should be noted that in any scenario the military is a wild factor. To what extent the Rouhai-Larijani duo can weaken or control the military which also has enormous economic power is an important question.

Right or wrong, both of these analyses point out Ali Larijani's rising star. Larijani has been the key force behind persuading the Majles to approve the nuclear deal with the West in 2015, and in ratifying the FATF bills that could end Iran's isolation. The fact that both moves faced resistance by hardliners, and were in accord with Rouhani's agenda lend a degree of credibility to these analyses.