Iran File

The Iran File is an analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.

Iran File: Can Iranian moderates and reformists threaten Raisi’s chances of becoming supreme leader? 

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Key Takeaway: Iranian moderates and reformists are cooperating to regain political influence by undermining hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, which could damage his chances of becoming the next supreme leader. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may allow this moderate-reformist bloc to regain influence—despite the risks it poses to Raisi—to avoid domestic unrest.

Prominent Iranian moderates and reformists are coordinating to regain political influence. Moderate and reformist officials, such as former presidents Hassan Rouhani and Mohammad Khatami and former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, *have met regularly in recent months, indicating cooperation. These officials reportedly *aim to obstruct hardline President Ebrahim Raisi and discredit hardliners ahead of the 2024 parliamentary elections and 2025 presidential election.

This moderate-reformist bloc is likely leveraging hardline grievances about Raisi from within his own faction to damage his political capital among the regime’s power centers. Moderates and reformists are reportedly *collaborating with hardliners to obstruct Raisi’s policies. Hardliners have increasingly criticized Raisi’s administration since his inauguration in August 2021, especially in recent weeks. Hardline parliamentarians *criticized Raisi’s economic policies and *submitted proposals to *impeach two of Raisi’s ministers in March 2022.

Mounting criticisms of Raisi could damage his likelihood of succeeding Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Raisi is a top contender to replace Khamenei, who *backed regime interference in the 2021 presidential elections to help Raisi win. Moderates and reformists may attempt to sow doubt about Raisi’s political competency among actors likely to shape succession. Supreme leader succession *is an opaque process that will likely involve negotiation among the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Khamenei’s allies, and prominent politicians and clerics. A moderate-reformist bloc could leverage public criticism of Raisi to contest his bid to become supreme leader throughout this process.

Khamenei may allow this moderate-reformist bloc to regain some influence, despite the risks it poses to Raisi, to mitigate domestic unrest and reinforce the facade of political diversity. Politically and economically motivated protests have become more prevalent in recent years, as the regime faces a growing legitimacy crisis. Iran’s 2020 legislative elections and 2021 presidential election saw a record low turnout, likely signaling public disillusion with the regime following its interference to favor hardliners. It is unclear how much latitude, if any, Khamenei is willing to grant this moderate-reformist bloc. The supreme leader may grant a moderate-reformist coalition influence to mitigate further unrest. Khamenei could, alternatively, leverage regime institutions to back Raisi, as he did in the 2021 presidential election.

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Mar '22
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