05.06.2024 Author: Bakhtiar Urusov

Iran’s future after Raisi’s death

The future of Iran after the death of Raisi

The clerical regime in Iran continues to consolidate power in its hands. In the face of intense external pressure and the complex situation in the Middle East, the country is preparing for early presidential elections, preparing the landscape for a future president and supreme leader.  

On Sunday 19 May, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in tragic circumstances. The first day of Middle East Week began with news that shocked the region.

According to the Islamic Republic’s constitution, a new president must be elected within 50 days. Candidate registration begins on 30 May and voting begins on 28 June.

Although the Iranian president is not a head of state in the conventional sense, and the functions of head of state are performed by the supreme leader, the post is an elected one and, like the recent parliamentary vote in the IRI, it reflects the mood of the street as well as the position of the Iranian establishment.

Difficult domestic political situation and degradation of the socio-economic situation 

The current circumstances pose a difficult dilemma for the country’s current leadership. In addition to Western economic sanctions, Tehran is under enormous external political pressure. In recent years, the Iranian leadership has faced unprecedented condemnation of the political processes taking place within the republic.

The late Raisi, for example, was repeatedly accused of eliminating rivals and committing ‘fraud’ during the election campaign. At the same time, the most recent presidential elections in 2021, as well as the parliamentary elections in the spring of 2024, were described by Western observers as illegitimate due to extremely low voter turnout.

Currently, the political landscape in Iran is highly charged. Mass protests following the death in prison of Mahsa Amini (who was detained by the local Interior Ministry for not wearing a hijab) and the country’s severely deteriorating economic situation, accompanied by workers’ strikes, have contributed to this.

Western pressure on Iran continues unabated

At the same time, the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran was fuelled by the Western media, which promoted the theme of human rights violations, galloping inflation and mass unemployment in the country. In addition, the late Raisi’s visits to Moscow were widely reported against the backdrop of the launch of the Strategic Defence Forces.

At the same time, all the above-mentioned thrusts of the sword against the Iranian leadership have been met with the detention of EU and US citizens in Iran, as well as Western merchant ships in Iranian territorial waters. The release of their people and goods has reduced the level of Western criticism of Tehran, but has stalled sensitive dossiers such as the JCPOA and the unfreezing of Iranian assets abroad.

In the current circumstances, the key issue for the country’s supreme leader is not a candidate for the transition of power, but a way to implement the process. Although Raisi was perceived as the main candidate for the rahbar post, his cadence has been described as one of the worst since 1979. Even with speculation about the removal of the last president by external actors such as Israel, there was much more dissatisfaction with Raisi’s policies within Iran itself.

Adapting to new realities and playing on contradictions with the US and neighbours 

Against the background of recent progress in Tehran’s contacts with Washington on the Israeli dossier and some concessions on the part of the United States (unfreezing assets in GCC banks), it seems that the forthcoming presidential elections in Iran may be held under less harsh conditions. This refers to a possible thawing of relations between the clerical regime and the opposition in order to ensure a greater number of popular representatives in the electoral race.

This manoeuvre is intended to ensure a higher turnout at the polls, thereby increasing the legitimacy of the process. It is clear to everyone that the general line of the IRI is unlikely to change with the coming to power of a president who has a different opinion from the supreme leader.

Traditional nationalism is still the guarantor of the existence of the clerical regime

A retrospective analysis of the situation in the Islamic Republic shows that the country has experienced unrest before. The theocratic regime managed to survive tensions after the fall of the Shah in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1990s and in 2009 after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President. The protests of 2022, albeit at the cost of many casualties, actually further consolidated power in the hands of the clerical regime.

The point is that there is still a strong layer of society consisting of traditional nationalists in the hands of big business, religious and educational foundations and the media. It is worth noting that these people are fervent opponents of the Shah’s regime and will never allow the Western-backed Pahlavi scion to return to the country.

However, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is currently 85 years old, and his successor has not yet been appointed. Although rahbar will serve as the nation’s leader for the rest of his earthly days, a struggle for his seat will begin under the current political circumstances. Under these circumstances, the Iranian presidency could be a serious challenge for a future candidate. Prominent politicians such as former president Hassan Rouhani will try to remain in the shadows until Khamenei’s death, experts say.

Given the repeated criticism of Raisi for worsening the country’s economic situation, the position of Iran’s President in the current reality is a “firing squad” and promises a complete dismantling of the political image. Until the transfer of power, everything will depend on the future candidate’s ability to forge tactical alliances with the clerics, the IRGC’s loyalty to him and his ability to manage administrative resources competently.

The victory of one politician or another in the upcoming elections is unlikely to change Iran’s course in any way. Even under the most intense pressure and constant provocation from the West and Israel, the clerical regime will continue to hold on to its position of power in the country. Undoubtedly, Supreme Leader Khamenei is unpopular with the people and street protests are disproportionately repressed. But it is precisely at a time of heightened socio-economic tensions within the country that Iran has managed to build up its offensive and nuclear capabilities, which have greatly united Iranians and opened up new opportunities for the republic. Opponents of the clerical regime predict its imminent demise and a profound transformation of the IRI, but these are only their hopes for now.


Bakhtiar URUSOV, political observer, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

Related articles: