Who will be the next Iranian president following Raisi’s death?

Who will be the next Iranian president following Raisi’s death?
Following Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's death close to the border of Azerbaijan all talk is now on who will take over. / bne IntelliNews
By bne Tehran bureau May 20, 2024

With the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on May 19, many are wondering what happens next in the country of more than 80 million people.

Based on the Constitution, the first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, will take charge as caretaker president with the nod of the Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, until an election is held within a maximum of 50 days.

There is no clear leader currently who will lead the country after the next election and which person will take over from Khamenei when he dies—previously tipped to be Ebrahim Raisi, who had been training in the job for a while.

Mohammad Mokhber

Mokhber, 69, is a potential presidential candidate himself. He has a PhD in development management and had been the head of the Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order, a parastatal organisation under the direct control of Ayatollah Khamenei which controlled huge swathes of land and property in the country following the revolution in 1979.

He has also held a position in the Mostazafan Foundation, the second-largest commercial enterprise in Iran, which claims its profits are used to promote the living standards of the disabled and poor individuals.

His sudden temporary rise to power likely surprised him as much as everyone else in the country following the helicopter crash near Uzi close to the border of Azerbaijan.

However, it may not be plain sailing, Mokhber was sanctioned by the European Union in 2012 for “alleged involvement in nuclear or ballistic missile activities,” the sanctions were removed two years later. He came under American sanctions in January 2021 for his role in the crackdown on protesters.

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf

Long-time presidential wannabe and current parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, 54, is believed to be another contender.  As a former military officer, he has been in top ranks, such as the mayor of Tehran and Iran's chief of police and the revolutionary guards, suggesting a steady hand at the helm of the government.

Qalibaf has run for presidency three times but lost twice in 2005 and 2013 and withdrew in 2017 in favour of Raisi to secure his position in the parliament. He stands a good chance at taking over the government as he remains a stalwart conservative, although more a pragmatist than cleric Raisi.

Mohammad Javad Zarif

Rumours have circulated about former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's intention to run for the presidency as a representative of the so-called Reformists. However, he has repeatedly dismissed the speculations, saying he is happy to work as a university professor.

As a politician favouring normal relations with the West and the United States, Zarif, 64, is most well-known as the architect of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that lifted international sanctions on Tehran in return for restrictions on its atomic programme.

Mohsen Rezaei

Another long-time presidential hopeful, Mohsen Rezaei, 70, a conservative politician and a senior officer in the IRGC, could be another candidate in the coming snap elections.

He has a reputation for running for the presidency and losing in Iran. He has been a candidate four times, withdrew from one and lost the other three, including the latest 2021, in which he competed against the late Raisi.

Eshaq Jahangiri

A former first vice president under Hassan Rouhani, Eshaq Jahangiri, 66, is known for his reformist views and experience in economic management.

He has been a prominent figure in Iranian politics and could garner support from the moderate and reformist factions if allowed to run in the next elections in more than 50 days. The chances of Rouhani’s faction returning to power if allowed to run are not entirely implausible, considering the poor running of the state under Raisi’s tenure.

However, with all these potential candidates behind the scenes, powerful committees and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have the final say on who can run in the tightly controlled elections, which have not been classed as free and fair.

 Successor to the Supreme Leader

With Raisi's death, Khamenei's son Mojtaba emerges as a prominent contender for the role of Supreme Leader. However, Mojtaba's lack of public presence and potential backlash against perceived nepotism could complicate his ascension.

The legitimacy of the Supreme Leader requires at least an appearance of popular support, which Mojtaba has yet to demonstrate.The sudden death of President Raisi introduces uncertainty into Iran's political future, particularly regarding the succession of the Supreme Leader.

The upcoming weeks and months will be critical in determining the country's direction and stability.