If Raisi Is Dead: Implications for the Islamic Republic of Iran

State media report that a helicopter carrying Iran President Ebrahim Raisi had a “hard landing” amidst bad weather. Rescue teams reportedly are struggling to reach the mountainous and forested site. Raisi was returning from a visit to the Iran-Azerbaijan border. If Raisi is dead or incapacitated, there will need to be an emergency succession in Iran.

How Would Presidential Succession Occur?

Raisi’s demise, if confirmed, would not be the first death of a sitting Iranian president, In 1981, the Mojahedin-e Khalq of Iran assassinated President Mohammad-Ali Rajai. The Islamic Republic’s constitution simply states that when a president dies, a new president “would be chosen.” In 1981, authorities called a new election but, in 1989, an amended constitution gave the Supreme Leader, currently Ali Khamenei, further power to decide. Under the current constitution, there is no mandate for a new election. If the president is dead or unable to perform his duties for longer than two months, the first vice president, the speaker of the parliament, and the chief justice, with the consent of the Supreme Leader, form a council to choose the succession mechanism.

In effect, this means Khamenei will decide. The Supreme Leader directly appoints the chief justice without parliamentary consent. Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the current chief justice, is a loyal foot soldier of Khamenei. The same is true of Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general and former mayor of Tehran, who survived many rounds of Khamenei’s purges. The first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, has been a low-profile figure who will certainly consent to the Supreme Leader’s will.

There are two possible outcomes. Either a new election is called, or Khamenei will dictate that the council chooses a single person to avoid an election in time of crisis. Ghalibaf, who has long aspired to the presidency, could finally get his wish.

Read the rest at the Middle East Forum.

Shay Khatiri is a Senior Fellow and the Vice President of Development at Yorktown Institute.

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