As US and NATO powers fire up the war machine against Iran, its important to remember exactly who holds power in the Islamic Republic. While Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always the target of personal attacks, some justified and some simply childish, he is not the one ultimately in charge. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the power to veto any decisions Ahmadinejad makes. He has actually done so this year. More importantly, he has the power to dissolve the presidency and replace it with an honorary post elected by members of parliament.
The Ayatollah has recently said publicly that he has the power to do that, a warning to Ahmadinejad as their relationship in power has become more strained. Now Ahmadinejad to his credit does not back down. He went right out and defiantly said that anyone who defied the will of the Iranian people would be “destroyed”. From the language between Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah, it appears the president is willing to go to war against the supreme leader. It’s a risky move without a doubt, the wisdom of it however, remains to be seen.
It has not been a good year for the two, there has been a lot of hostility between them. In April Ahmadinejad fired Heydar Moslehi, the Intelligence Minister, only to have the Ayatollah reinstate the man. This only undermined his position right as he is barely holding on to power as it is. A $2.6 billion banking fraud has been exposed, with many of his allies implicated. When this fraud broke, it was shown that forged documents were used to get loans from seven banks to purchase stakes in state-owned companies. Pro-Khamenei supporters want Ahmadinejad to take the blame, with this, blame him for the weakening of the economy as well.
Too many of Ahmadinejad’s allies have been weakened, to give him any back up is difficult. Seye Hamid Pour-Mohammadi, the deputy governor of the central bank has been arrested. The finance minister Shamsoddin Hosseini barely survived a vote to have him impeached.
Both of these men are strong supporters of Ahmadinejad’s economic policy designed to deal with the impacts of the international sanctions against Iran. in fact Mr. Pour-Mohammadi is the head of a committee set up by Ahamadejad to deal with just that.
The effectiveness of the plan remains to be seen. Some of it is quite controversial and unpopular. Mr. Hosseini was the man who put together Ahmadinejad’s plant to end subsidies on many essential supplies. The items on the chopping block are electricity, fuel and food. The cancellation of the subsidies is expected to save $100 billion a year. Since this was pushed through, the price of basic commodities has increased dramatically. this resulted in a new system of cash hand outs to the poor that have proven unable to keep up with inflation. There has been protests and strikes over this and unpaid wages.
All of this may add up to the end of Ahmadinejad presidency. Too many of his opponents and pro-Khamenei supporters are calling for him to be taken down. However the Ayatollah wishes to keep his image, meaning he wants to be seen as above petty politics and party fighting. He is the supreme leader and he should act like it, with omnibenevolence. On the other hand this maybe a good series of reasons to take Ahamdinejad down and retain his moral high ground.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the removal of Ahmadinejad this way. Many of the clerics in the country are unhappy with a lot of the dirty politics taking place. This may be just the excuse they need to end Iran’s experiment with democracy.