IRAN'S ruling elite has overcome the challenge of Ayatollah Khomeini's death and has succeeded in building a new and more pragmatic political system, according to Western diplomats contacted in Tehran. The new Constitution, prepared by a 25-member council appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini a few weeks before his death, will be submitted today to a popular referendum. The Iranian Constitution is officially already being referred to as ``revised,'' indicating the government's condfidence in the outcome of the vote.
Also today the Iranians will elect their new President of the Republic. The present speaker of the parliament, Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is expected to win with an overwhelming majority.
On July 10, the government dismissed the candidacies of 78 politicians. It was decided that only Mr. Rafsanjani and a little known former minister of Agriculture, Abbas Sheibani, would be allowed to campaign.
An Iranian exile interviewed in Paris commented last week: ``They let Sheibani run only because they wanted to avoid a single-candidate election. The question is not what Rafsanjani's majority will be, but how many people will go to the polls.''
The revised Iranian Constitution will not alter the theocratic nature of the regime but provides that the country's supreme religious leader, the ``guide,'' need not be a grand ayatollah, but may rather be a simple theologian.
That means that in the future any cleric could run for the job. Paragraphs of the former Constitution alluding to the charisma and popular support required to become the ``guide'' have been dropped and replaced by an article explaining that the supreme leader should be elected by an assembly of religious experts.
Khamenei, who has the religious title of hojatoleslam, is now called by the higher-ranking title of ayatollah by Iranian journalists, follwoing Rafsanjani's lead. This is taken as a clear signal from the government that Khamenei will remain supreme guide in the foreseeable future, Western diplomats in Tehran say. It was thought earlier that Khamenei was just to be a transitional leader.
According to the new Constitution, Khamenei's task will be to issue the general guidelines of the country's foreign and domestic policy. This latest article may, according to those Western diplomats, lead to conflicts between Khamenei and Rafsanjani.
The new Constitution abolishes the job of prime minister and provides that Cabinet members will be responsible to the President.
Iranian officials contacted in Tehran say Rafsanjani had frankly said in private conversation before today's constitutional referendum that he wished the new fundamental law to seriously clip the wings of the powerful legislative body.
Rafsanjani was particularly eager to get rid of the articles that allowed a majority of deputies to pass a no-confidence vote on any Cabinet member at any time. He was partly successful in the sense that from now on ministers will have to secure a confidence vote in only when taking office.
Meanwhile, Western observers in Tehran say this new system of double responsibility, before the president and before parliament, may renew conflicts between the legislative and the executive.
Informed Iranian exiles say that Ayatollah Khomeini's son, Ahmed, may well try to get Rafsanjani's job as speaker of parliament. An Iranian official in Tehran refused to comment on this issue, but said, ``Within three months, there will be a by-election in Tehran and Mr. Khomeini will be free to run if he wishes. If he is elected, he may try to be chosen as speaker by his peers.''
Iranian exiles also say the coming weeks will show whether Rafsanjani has really succeeded in building a powerful executive.
``If Rafsanjani convinces Khamenei to hand over the presidential power right after the election, instead of waiting until October as prescribed by the Constitution, that will be a positive sign,'' says one exile. ``Then Mr. Rafsanjani will have to set up his Cabinet. If he gets rid of the present minister of interior, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, that will be another positive sign.''
Mr. Mohtashemi is the most radical member of the Cabinet. He has been accused by Western intelligence services of supporting terrorism and of maintaining close ties with groups holding Western hostages in Lebanon.