The dramatic eruption of the simmering political hostility between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and the Speaker of the Majlis Ali Larijani, which was broadcast on state radio, becomes a defining moment in the run-up to the presidential election in Iran in May. Ahmedinejad who cannot seek a third term as president, may have mortally wounded the presidential ambitions of Larjiani.
Larijani made things very difficult for Ahmedinejad throughout his second term and played a manipulative role behind-the-scenes to humiliate and weaken the president, and the latter probably decided it is now payback time. In one stroke, he tore into Larijani’s carefully-choreographed plot to project himself as the best choice for Iran’s presidency in the forthcoming election in May.
The Larijani brothers are a powerful lot and their nexus with the religious establishment in Qom is strong, but it is doubtful whether the clever, cunning speaker of the Majlis can easily recover from Ahmedinejad’s knockout punch.
Larijani was never a popular politician. In the last presidential election when he stood as a candidate, he polled around 3% of votes. Which of course brings up the question as to who will be the candidate of the establishment.
Many names are being mentioned, but to my mind, the rising star is Ali Akbar Velayati, former foreign minister and advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Velayati’s credentials are matchless. He was foreign minister for 16 years at a stretch (including under the presidency of Khamenei) and is a pragmatist who is highly regarded in the regional and world capitals.
Of course, he is a trusted aide of Khameini’s, while being a product of Johns Hopkins University and a first-rate intellectual, he is also the modern, cosmopolitan face of Iran. Indeed, he will be a seasoned navigator to lead Iran as it enters the choppy waters of negotiations with the United States.
If Velayati makes the grade, the prospects of a US-Iran normalization will definitely improve. However, Shia politics is Byzantine and Velayati’s single handicap is that he does not belong to any major political party or faction.