The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash raises the immediate question of who will succeed him in running the government. Raisi was not only expected to succeed the 85-year-old Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but his death also has consequences for the future of one of the most powerful positions in the Middle East.

What is the difference between Supreme Leader and President?

The Supreme Leader, also known as the Velayat-e Faqih in Shia Islamic theology, is the ultimate ruler in Iran and is responsible for making all major decisions concerning the state. The Supreme Leader, a position established after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is also head of state and commander in chief.

Only men are allowed to be considered for the job. According to the type of Islamic law that’s implemented in Iran, it has to be given to a high ranking Shia theologian who must be at least at the rank of Ayatollah—although it’s disputed whether Khamenei himself ever reached that level.

The president in Iran, meanwhile, is the head of the country’s executive branch and is elected in a closely vetted election process every four years. The president controls the government and, depending on that person’s political background and strength, can amass great influence over state policy and the economy.
What happens now?

According to Iran’s constitution, upon the president’s death, the first vice president assumes temporary leadership. Together with the judiciary chief and the parliament speaker, they hold a new presidential election within 50 days. In this case, it appears certain that the temporary leader will be Mohammad Mokhber, a former officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and one-time head of an endowment that looks after the Islamic Republic’s assets.

In an apparent effort to allay any public concern about the stability of the government, Khamenei spoke about Raisi’s absence on Sunday evening—even before his death was confirmed—and said that people shouldn’t expect any disruptions to how the country is run.
What impact does Raisi’s death have on Iran and the region?

One of the big questions raised by Raisi’s death is how his absence is likely to affect the battle over who succeeds Khamenei as Supreme Leader. This is an issue that’s preoccupied academics, officials and analysts as Khamenei has gotten older.

Raisi’s death could also have consequences for Iran’s relationship with the rest of the region. Iran backs a number of proxy groups, the most powerful of which are fighting Israel. The Revolutionary Guard Corps will look to make sure that Iran’s enemies don’t exploit a moment of upheaval. Raisi also oversaw a period of warmer ties with Gulf Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and while it’s likely that policy will continue, any new leader may have different priorities.
Who’s next in line to be Supreme Leader?

In Iran’s complicated and very opaque political structure, there are virtually no official or public spaces where questions about Khamenei’s replacement are openly discussed. But analysts, officials and academics close to the political establishment had for some time mentioned both Raisi and Khamenei’s son Mojtaba as top contenders.

Raisi’s death means Mojtaba will now be seen as having a clear path to the top office. But that would also be a risky appointment. Iran has a fraught legacy with the concept of inherited rule—the leaders of the 1979 Islamic Revolution vehemently opposed any sort of system that resembled the monarchy they overthrew.

Mojtaba’s popularity has also never been tested give that he doesn’t hold any government position and isn’t seen publicly very often. The Supreme Leader needs to at least have an appearance of having authentic support from the masses who support the current religious system if he’s to have any sort of legitimacy.

Source » time