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On the road, Iran's Khamenei sets stage for a less democratic future

During a nine-day provincial tour, Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei pushed for voter participation in upcoming elections, but also suggested that a directly elected president might become a thing of the past.

By Staff Writer / October 17, 2011

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to his supporters before starting his speech in the province of Kermanshah, west of Tehran on Sunday.

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Istanbul, Turkey

It looked like business as usual when Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei began a nine-day tour of the western province of Kermanshah last week. But Ayatollah Khamenei appears to be setting the stage for political changes that will further shrivel the democratic aspect of the Islamic Republic.

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On the road, as usual, Khamenei excoriated Iran's enemies – the United States, Israel, and all the West – and praised the martyrs of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the war with Iraq in the 1980s.

Khamenei also seemed to be giving a get-out-the vote pep talk to Iranians in anticipation of parliamentary elections next March, and a presidential vote due in 2013.

"It's the people themselves who decide. They go to the polls, they make their choice; things are run by the people," Khamenei told a large crowd last Wednesday, as he ticked off reasons why Iran's Islamic system was superior and indestructible, according to a simultaneous English translation by state-run PressTV.

All problems, Khamenei said then, were solved because of this "participation, the faith of the people in the Islamic establishment, [their] steadfastness and their loyalty, [so that they] consider themselves the owners and governors of the country."

But by Sunday, those sacred principles appeared to be giving way to a less democratic future.

Khamenei – whose title is meant to confer the authority of God's interim representative on earth – suggested that the post of Iran's directly elected president might be abolished, to be replaced by a premier chosen by parliament.

"The current political system of the country is presidential, and the president is elected directly by the people. This is a good and effective system," Khamenei reassured another large crowd on Sunday. "But if one day, possibly in the distant future, it is felt that a parliamentary system is more suited for electing those responsible for the executive branch, then there would be no problems in making changes in the system."

From outside Iran, that might appear to be a subtle change.

But inside Iran, resurrection of the post of prime minister – which existed for the first decade of the revolution, until 1989 – would mark a further decline of democracy.

Such a decision would come in the context of the divisive six-year presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and the violent aftermath of his fraudulent 2009 reelection – which has caused political mayhem, especially among conservatives.

It would also come as Mr. Ahmadinejad has mounted several challenges to Khamenei, and proven himself to be a gutsy street-fighter willing to damage the regime's reputation to preserve his own. His closest aides have been accused of sorcery and leading a "deviant current."


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