Sunset Over Iran, Contesting the Power of the Supreme Leader
by Ali Younes
Iranian leadership is facing tough decisions in the wake of unprecedented popular opposition to the landslide “win” of president Ahmedinejad against his opponent Mir Hussein Moussavi. At this point this is not the sinking of the Titanic situation despite the killing of 7 protestors and increased popular agitation and the apparent polarization of the Iranian society Though media reports speculated on the speed with which the Iranian government counted and released the vote, it is however, the endorsement of the “questionable” results by the supreme leader Ali Khamenei that might prove to be the real catalyst for any decision to stay or annul the elections.
By virtue of his office, Ali Khamenei sits on the top of the Iranian leadership pyramid. He functions as the ultimate authority with constitutional powers that empowers him to suggest to the Guardian Council to make decisions according to his views. Therefore, he can annul the elections by declaring that as the supreme leader of the Iranian revolution and as a representative of the Hidden Imam, the elections results are void and invalid.
Iranian constitution provides this kind of powers to the supreme leader in cases that the supreme leader sees that “Islam is endangered” or that the Islamic republic and revolution is facing a mortal danger. These powers were only used very few times in the 30 years history of the Islamic republic. Twice when Imam Khomeini was alive, and once by Ali Khamenei himself which was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. In this case the Majles or Parliament approved and passed a freedom of press bill that Ali Khamenei later on, and simply, voided. The issue here of course is whether Ali Khamenei would void the elections results or not. But the stakes for Khamenei are high; he personally endorsed Ahmedinejad and later on congratulated him on his win. Also, it is unusual for Ali Khamenei to side with Hussein Moussavi due to personal power struggle between the two that dates back twenty years.
In 1989 a political rift was widening between Mir Hussein Moussavi, then prime minster and Iranian president Ali Khamenei who is now the supreme leader. The two men had been among the very powerful Iranian leaders and the closest to Imam Khomeini right after the Revolution in 1979. The tug of war that ensued between the two powerful men ended up in eliminating the post of prime minister and enhances the power of the president.
Moussavi did not hold a public position after that and Ali Khamenei became the ultimate ruler of Iran. For Ali Khamenei the prospect of having Hussein Moussavi as the president of Iran is a very serious threat to his own power and to the very existence of his post as the supreme leader. Moussavi and to a larger extent the other presidential candidate, Mahdi Karrubi have called for an“ Amendment “of the constitution of Iran during this election. The last amendment in the Islamic Republic constitution occurred some 20 years ago, in 1989. Moussavi argues for amending the constitution by which he alludes to the idea of eliminating the office of “Supreme Leader”
He also accuses Ali Khamenei of acquiring kingly powers by acting more like a king than a spiritual leader. Though he uses the word “amendment” to mask his call to either defang the powers of the supreme leader by creating another ruling council out of it or eliminating the office altogether. Moussavi, however, is unlikely to succeed in his goals, thus far due to the entrenchment of the Iranian powerful elites and the power of the military particularly the Revolutionary Guards, IRGC, which is under the command of Ali Khamenei and supports Ahmedinejad.
Will Ali Khamenei void and annul the election results and order for new elections as demanded by the demonstrators? It is a real possibility, but only if street protests escalate and turn into a mass movement and Ali Khamenei senses that his ship might be sinking if he did not act soon enough. Or, he might continue on with the partial recount of the votes as per his orders to the guardian council which might at the end ratify the election results and reinstall Ahmedinejad as president for four more years. The other option is to have Moussavi persuaded or forced to concede defeat.
Iran, however, will definitely be transformed into a different country after these tumultuous times. Iranian citizens, as a result, will find that under Khamenei- Ahmadinejad, they will be gripped by fully totalitarian system where the opposition will have no room to breath and their social lives will be strictly government and controlled. Under Moussavi, however, who is by no mean a flaming liberal, but rather a moderate-conservative, Iran will moderate its international and regional aggressive politics and loosen its social control over the lives of ordinary Iranians.
Ali Younes is a writer and a Middle East analyst n Washington DC