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.
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Khamenei's comments "reflect ... a nearly decade-long conservative, undemocratic trend in Iranian politics where political change has been engineered and managed," writes Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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"Should Iran decide to eliminate the post of a directly elected president, the primary role of a reinstated premiership would be to execute the Supreme Leader's directives," Mr. Marashi writes on the Tehran Bureau website. "This was – and continues to be – what is expected from Ahmadinejad. His increasing intransigence has only sped up an otherwise steady moving process toward the domestic vision for Iran that many unelected officials hold: more Islamic than republican."
The possibility of such substantial change harkened back more than two decades, when Iran's Constitution was tweaked by the leader of the revolution. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini changed the Constitution to pave the way for a mid-ranking cleric with less popular support – in this case Khamenei, who had been president twice in the 1980s – to assume the supreme post.
Khomeini passed away months later, and Khamenei was elevated to "ayatollah" almost immediately. But he had neither the charisma nor religious learning to fully grasp the reins of leadership, in the view of many more-senior clerics.
"Of course, any change and modernization and reviewing of policies must be based on Islamic principles," Khamenei said on Sunday, according to a transcript posted on Khamenei's official webpage. "The changes must also conform with the Constitution," he said, and would be made "without deviation from the path" of the revolution.
Insight into plans for upcoming elections
Khamenei's words may provide an early clue to how Iran's hardline leadership will deal with the upcoming elections, which would be the first nationwide vote since the star-crossed exercise of 2009.
Millions of Iranians, wearing green of the opposition Green Movement and carrying signs that read 'Where's my vote?" took to the streets that year to protest the officially announced landslide for Ahmadinejad. In the lethal crackdown, scores of pro-democracy Iranians were killed, many raped, thousands arrested, and their actions described as "against God" in show trials.
As a result, some Green Movement leaders say the opposition will not take part in upcoming elections. Top opposition leaders remain under house arrest, including Mir Hossein Moussavi, the man who challenged Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2009, and who, ironically, was the last to serve as Iran's prime minister in the 1980s.
During the later stages of the protests, portraits and banners of Khamenei were regularly torn down, burned, and trampled upon by Iranians, who chanted "Death to Khamenei."
None of those critical events of 2009 have been mentioned by Khamenei during his tour of Kermanshah, except to describe how the "wisdom" of the people – and the vigilance of the basiji militiamen – came together to stamp out the "sedition" and thwart the plots of foreign enemies to destroy the revolution.