Thursday, January 20, 2011

Is the Supreme Leader Dead?

It was last week all over the Internet, web sites, blogs and social networks that Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has died.

If it turns to be only a false rumour, it doesn't really matter, a media sensation has been created and everything will go back to normal soon. However, if true, he has been a known cancer patient for quite sometimes, his death puts an already fragile military regime in a daunting position. It is a widely known fact that after the rigged presidential election last year, the military regime is visibly apprehensive and unstable. It has experienced streets protests by millions of Iranians chanting against the leader and his military associates. There were even occasions, unofficially reported, when aircrafts had been taxied to the runway to take Khameneei and many of his generals out of the country. We also know that the only way this military machine was able to manage the situation since last year was to literally turn Iran into a big prison! 

Now after his death, if true, this military machine needs to coronate someone, discussions have been around for quite sometimes, as his replacement. But this by no means is an easy task. Nominating and appointing a Supreme Leader has constitutionally accorded to the Expediency Council*, currently headed by the renowned pragmatist politician, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani enjoys the support of the majority of the council members, and he himself is a known foe of the appointed president Ahmadi Nejad. Legally, in this situation, any attempt by the generals to shun the council puts them in a collision course with the country's constitution. Having said that, during the aftermath of the generals' coup we have learned that law is the last thing they are concerned about!

Basically this situation leaves the generals with only two potions. First is to try to crown a new leader of their own choice, something similar to what they did in the presidential election, with no regard for the constitutional procedures. However, such action creates a constitutional crisis in the country. Given the semi-revolution demonstrations displayed by the Iranian people last year, such move by the generals possibly creates an environment where people would be able to force them into unpredictable bold responses, bringing their military hardware into streets. That is what they have been able to avoid so far, at least in an apparent way. Because that could have potentially triggered the beginning of their end at the early stage of the coup.  

Their second option, however, is to ostensibly follow the council's line, but threatening the members behind the scene to support their preferred candidate. Since this doesn't sound like a viable option for the generals, I tend to believe that the council and those of pragmatists politicians in the system will succeed to convince this little, and not very wise, group of generals that if they don't change course; perhaps it wouldn't be long before their pictures end up on the playing cards!

Nevertheless, in the event of Khamenei's death, the most influential party involved is the people of Iran. While their Green Movement has been violently suppressed in the past one and half-year; it is still very much alive. The movement means over 70 percent of the country's 70 millions population; they are not to being shepherd by force for an unforeseen future!

This military regime may have been able to hold the country and its people hostage for now. But should Khameneei dies, a created leadership vacuum would force the generals and their reactionary clerics allies to try to appoint a replacement. That would once again place them in direct clash with the country's constitution and the sovereignty of the people. This sounds as the beginning of the end to me!

*Article 107 of Chapter VIII of the Islamic Republic Constitution

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