Iran’s Guardian Council, the constitutional body that vets the candidates for almost all elections in the country, recently barred Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from running in the presidential elections of June 14. Rafsanjani, an architect of Iran’s 1979 Revolution, is a former two-term president and speaker of the “Majles” (parliament). Currently he is chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, which arbitrates disputes between the Majles and the Guardian Council and acts as adviser to the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 1989, Rafsanjani played a key role in elevating Khamenei, then a low-rank cleric, to his Supreme Leader position, and Khamenei repeatedly has referred to Rafsanjani as the “pillar of the revolution.”
Rafsanjani’s elimination from the presidential campaign has shocked the nation. Calling it “unbelievable,” Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, publicly expressed his anger and said that he had conveyed Qom’s major clerics’ disapproval to Khamenei. Khomeini’s daughter, Dr. Zahra Mostafavi, wrote a letter to Khamenei in which she reminded him of her father’s complete trust in Rafsanjani. In another letter to Khamenei, Ali Motahhari, a Majles deputy and son of Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari, an ideologue of the Revolution, said that if Khomeini himself were to run today, the Guardian Council would bar him. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who lives in Iraq and is the most important “Marja,” or source of emulation for the masses, had supported Rafsanjani’s bid for presidency. But Rafsanjani’s candidacy had also created a huge wave of support among the common people. This terrifies hardliners afraid that the Green Movement may come out on the streets again. Repression and crackdown on the reformist activists and supporters of the Green Movement have already increased.
Rafsanjani’s elimination also represents a significant new development in Iranian politics—namely, the end of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Although Khamenei is still referred to in Iran as the “leader of the Islamic revolution,” he now has achieved his long-term goal of transforming Iran into a religio-military dictatorship. To do this, he had to win a fierce power struggle with the moderates, reformists and supporters of the Green Movements, as well as many among the clergy who oppose him, albeit quietly.
Before being appointed Supreme Leader, Khamenei had no significant base of support, either in the society or among the grand ayatollahs. When the revolution was gathering steam in the fall of 1978, he did not even belong to Khomeini’s inner circle. It was Rafsanjani, a trusted Khomeini disciple, who brought Khamenei into the revolution’s high echelons. Due to his low-rank clerical position, Khamenei has never trusted the clerics, except those who have been willing to be absolutely obedient to him. Thus, he has devoted much of his time as Supreme Leader to efforts to consolidate a power base consisting of the security and intelligence forces and the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC).