Sudden death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1934-2017), is not expiry of a former president of Islamic Republic of Iran, who transformed himself from a revolutionary cleric to a pragmatic, moderate, multi-billionaire politician but it’s a major setback to Iranian quest to moderation. Hope of the Iranian urban middle class, Rafsanjani was strong candidate for next country’s top slot, Supreme Leader but now moderate forces will have to wait for another decade or so.

Abolishment of political parties in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrowing Pahlavi dynasty under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, role of powerful individuals became even more important. In last 38 years of Islamic regime, Rafsanjani emerged one of three most influential political figures in Iran following Ayatollah Khomeini and current top slot Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mr. Rafsanjani was leading the moderate forces, who convinced late Ayatollah Khomeini to accept the bitter yet ineluctable decision of ceasefire which brought the eight years long Iran-Iraq War to an end. No one could even think to disagree with Ayatollah Khomeini at that time because he was enjoying both political and religious authority; Rafsanjani had the courage to float such suggestion.

Ayatollah Khomeini strongly believed that we will fight the war till the last drop of their blood and made many public statements overruling the question of any ceasefire agreement. Ceasefire with Iraq, for him was the most embarrassing act of his life. Ayatollah Khomeini unwillingly accepted the proposal but still a problem has to been resolved. How and who to announce the “disgraceful” ceasefire? It was Rafsanjani, who stood up and said ‘allow me to announce it and later when war to reach an end, prosecute and execute me (for the very reason of treason)’.

Finally the unwanted decision was announced although Rafsanjani was neither prosecuted nor executed for that matter, but his announcement divided the nation between supporters and opponents. His supporters called him a savior while the hardliner revolutionaries blamed him for committing dishonesty to the revolutionary ideology of Islamic Republic. After the ceasefire announcement Ayatollah Khomeini never made public an appearance, until his death.

With the demise of Ayatollah Khomeini, when the critical question of succession of the most powerful position came forth, it was Rafsanjani, then speaker of legislative assembly, by casting his own vote, played a key role to get Ali Khamenei elected as the successor supreme leader. Rafsanjani enjoyed two consecutive tenures as the president of Iran while Ayatollah Khamenei continued to be at the most powerful position of supreme leader.

In the last half of his second tenure being president of Islamic Republic of Iran, Rafsanjani seemed to develop some serious disagreements with the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on various issues, i.e his stance for dialogue with the west, free trade economy and moderate interpretation of Islam made him a controversial figure. Although both Ali Khamenei and Rafsanjani never made these disagreements public yet the difference could have been seen at different spheres.

Ahmadi Nejad’s eight years tenure as the president of Islamic Republic of Iran was probably the most difficult time of Rafsanjani’s political career, when he was subjected to worst kind of allegations, ranging from financial corruption to treason and violation of Islamic values but his moderate posture made him once again a very popular political leader of Iranian urban middle class. On the other hand Rafsanjani continued to be one of the most unwanted persons for hardliners. Despite the controversies around his personality, he was the only person, capable to engage moderate and hardliners in dialogue and talk to Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme authority of the country, on equal footing.

Sudden of death of Rafsanjani even at the age of 83 has caused a serious damage to the cause of moderate forces in Iran. For them the “Promised Messiah” disappeared without making any appearance. Urban middle class which forms the majority of the country lacks a strong visionary leadership, capable of handling various political and financial challenges of the country.The biggest question emerged after the sudden death of Rafsanjani, who will be suitable candidate for supreme leader after Ayatollah Khamenei, as his health condition is not much encouraging. There was a view that Rafsanjani could have been a possible replacement.

In Islamic Republic of Iran, Supreme Leader, the top most slots will continue to lay with the hardliner revolutionaries backed by powerful Pasdaran – Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and moderate forces will have wait for another decade or so. Sadeq Larijani, more known as Amoli Larijani, is an intelligent conservative cleric, politician and the current and fifth head of the judicial system of Iran can be a possible choice for the hardliners.

Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, a “mid-ranking” Iranian cleric “the most prominent” among the siblings, who enjoys some public support as well, cannot be undermined as well, but it will depend how he plays his cards in coming years. Rafsanjani is no more there in the political scene of Iran but his suggestion to transfer the powers of supreme leader to an elected supreme council seems to be the most pragmatic and democratic way to avoid any political turmoil.

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Dr Jawad Hamdani is Islamabad based academician, graduated from Tehran University in Islamic Philosophy, Persian Language and Literature. He is a prominent analyst at BBC Persian Radio and TV. Dr Hamdani is also host of Pakistan Television (PTV) News.