On January 8, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died of a heart attack. The 82-year-old cleric was a major political figure in Iran and his passing is a significant event for Iran and the region
Analyses of history usually follow one of two lines–the “Great Man” or the “Great Wave.” The former postulates that the progression of history is shaped by strong personalities that bend the path of society through the force of their will. The latter says that history is a progression of impersonal forces which shape society and the people who participate are simply playing their role. In reality, both describe history, although we tend to lean toward the Great Wave explanation. This is because there are trends that develop in economies, societies and institutions that affect how history evolves, and the great people are usually those who correctly figure out the trends and move them forward. There are always those who resist; if the wave is strong enough, they tend to fail.
However, people do matter. Some personalities are so strong that even though they may not be “on the right side of history,” they slow the progression of a trend. And, if they are part of the trend, history suggests their support accelerates the movement.
Rafsanjani was this sort of figure, and so we want to mark his passing with a dedicated report. We are not suggesting that he was a good man; if anything, he was involved in many activities that harmed the U.S. Still, as we will discuss below, he was a pivotal figure in Iranian history and his death changes how Iran’s leaders will act going forward.
Our analysis will begin with a description of the structure of Iran’s government. A short biography of Hashemi Rafsanjani will follow. We will discuss his influence on Iranian society and the political system, then examine how his death may affect future Iranian activities. We will conclude with potential market ramifications.
The Structure of the Iranian Government
The Iranian government is structured as both a democracy and theocracy. The ultimate power of the state rests with a Supreme Leader, an ayatollah by requirement; he is the commander in chief, appoints the head of the judiciary and the state-controlled media and approves the elections of the president. In theory, the Supreme Leader can overturn laws created by the legislature and remove officials for being “irreligious.”
An elected Council of Experts, composed of clerics, appoints and can remove a Supreme Leader. Within the Council of Experts, a 12-person Guardians Council is appointed. This group approves all the candidates for elections. Elections for municipal and federal offices are held consistently, but these posts have limited power and it is not unusual for liberal candidates to be kept off ballots by the Guardians Council.
Hashemi Rafsanjani story continues in PDF