Death of Iranian ex-president Rafsanjani deals blow to nation’s moderates
Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died at the age of 82 on Sunday, leaving the country’s moderates without an important and longstanding voice.
Iran state media reported that Rafsanjani died after suffering a heart attack.
The former president, who served from 1989 to 1997, was extraordinarily influential both in and out of office. He pursued improved ties with the West throughout his political career and supported the recent nuclear deal with the U.S. despite opposition to it among the nation’s hardliners, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who rose to the position in no small part because of Rafsanjani’s support.
Rafsanjani helped found the republic after playing a key role in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In its chaotic aftermath, he led parliament and served as an aide to the first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His counsel helped convince Khomeini to work toward an end to the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war.
Rafsanjani’s death will be deeply felt by the country’s moderates, who saw him as “a much needed balance against conservative forces that would further intensify domestic repression and put Iran on a path towards confrontation with the West,” said Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council and author of the upcoming book Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy. “He remained a critical player within the Iranian system, often using his influence to move Iran in a more moderate direction while mending fences with the West as well as with Iran’s Arab neighbors.”
The former president was not unfamiliar with scandal or accusations of it. He played a key role in what became the Iran-Contra scandal in the U.S., and was accused in the wake of his presidency of corruption as he reportedly amassed a fortune. He sought to return to the presidency, but lost the 2005 election to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and was barred from running in 2013 by the country’s powerful Guardian Council, a 12-member body directly or indirectly appointed by the supreme leader.
Rafsanjani did, however, play a critical role in the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, and was working to garner him support for his re-election bid this May. As a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, Parsi says, Rafsanjani was also set to play a key role in the “crucial power struggle” over who will become the next supreme leader upon the death of Khamenei, who is 77 and has been in the position since 1989.
Now, however, Rafsanjani will no longer be a part of that process. And with Iran’s presidential election just months away and Donald Trump about to become the next U.S. president, his loss stands to be a major blow to Iranian moderates.
“The death of Rafsanjani,” Parsi said, “could not have come at a worse time for moderate forces in Iran.”
Additional reporting by Noreen Jameel