The message from Iran’s most powerful man was clear: the post of president could be removed sometime in the future. If this happened, the parliamentary system could instead be used to elect officials holding executive power. ‘There would be no problem in altering the current structure,’ stated Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a speech in the city of Kermanshah on Sunday.
What we have here is a tussle between Khamenei and PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad over their respective legacies. And Khamenei is taking this matter so seriously that he’s threatening to remove the very position of the presidency altogether. For now, this is only a threat. But it’s one that can’t be ignored, especially by Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad isn’t eligible to run for president again when his term expires in June 2013, as Iran’s Constitution is clear a president can run for only two consecutive terms. To ensure his legacy, then, Ahmadinejad seems to be backing his right hand man Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as a presidential candidate. Ahmadinejad likely hopes that with Mashaei as president, he will be able to retain a powerful cabinet position – think an Iranian twist on what Vladimir Putin has done in Dmitry Medvedev’s government. When Mashaei finishes his four year term, Ahmadinejad would then be able to use his likely high profile in Meshai’s government as a platform to develop a renewed bid for the presidency.
This concerns Khamenei, and rightly so.
Mashaei is an extremely divisive figure. Many conservatives despise him. For some, it is because of reports that he married a former member of the opposition Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which he was interrogating in the early 1980s, as well as reports that his brother was also member of the same organization. Others, though, are furious that he said publicly that the people of Iran have no problem with the people of Israel.
Jealousy is another factor. Soon after Meshai’s daughter married Ahmadinejad's son, his political career started to take off. From once being a virtually unknown politician, these days Mashaei is seen as Ahmadinejad’s right hand man (some even speculate that it’s Mashaei that holds the real power in the Ahmadinejad government).
But the animosity felt toward Mashaei isn’t confined to Iranian politicians – even Ahmadinejad’s brother Davood has been attacking him publicly. Ahmadinejad’s son-in-law, Mehdi Khorshidi, meanwhile, has joined in on the attacks against Meshai. Some believe that Davood left his post as chief of the presidential inspection unit because of Meshai.
It’s clear, then, that if Mashaei runs for president, it will create ferocious pitched political battles inside Iranian politics, conflicts that could even spark violence. This is the last thing Khamenei needs for a regime that already faces sanctions and a host of economic problems, as well as opposition from the Green movement. Khamenei therefore won’t want serious conflict among conservatives, who in the political world of the Islamic Republic are his biggest supporters.