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Friday
Jan042013

Iran Analysis: Preparing for Elections, Ahmadinejad Tries to Replace His Vice President

New Vice President? Gholam Hossein ElhamEarlier this week, we noted reports in Iranian media that President Ahmadinejad was planning to replace 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and three leading ministers. We also noted the denial from Ahmadinejad's office.

That, however, is only the beginning of the story. An EA correspondent in Iran assures us that Ahmadinejad is trying to remove his Vice President --- and it is part of a bigger plan for the Presidential election in June.

On the surface, the President has good political reasons to dismiss Rahimi. For years, allegations have circulated of the Vice President's involvement in a multi-million-dollar insurance fraud. Rahimi escaped being one of the more than 30 defendants who were eventually named, but his critics have not let up on their pressure. With Ahmadinejad basing his current fight against rivals on the theme of their supposed corruption, the person next to him in Government is a potential embarrassment.

Yet Ahmadinejad has stuck with Rahimi for years, and he has also not cast overboard controversial figures such as his aide Saeed Mortazavi, accused of involvement in the abuses and killings at Kahrizak detention centre in summer 2009. To the contrary, Mortazavi has been promoted to head the Social Security Fund, and another Vice President, Hamid Baghaei, has continued to wield influence despite claims that he is financially suspect.

So why ditch the 1st Vice President now?

Our correspondent gives the answer in the name of Rahimi's proposed replacement: Gholam Hossein Elham. 

Elham has been the spokesperson for the Ahmadinejad Government. More importantly, he is a former Minister of Justice. Even more importantly, he has been a member of the Guardian Council.

Ahmadinejad has been seeking a "legacy" through the selection of the next President. His oft-named first choice is former Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashai. However, Rahim Mashai is widely-disliked among the regime's elite. He does not hold a postgraduate degree, which may be a requirement for candidacy, and he could be vetoed by the Guardian Council.

Last month, the President appeared to be pursuing a Plan B with the promotion of Ali Nikzad, currently Minister of Roads, to the head of a new "super-ministry" for Infrastructure. That plan has been stalled by Parliament, which has declared that it must approved any merger of existing ministries.

So on to Elham. He is in good standing with many within the regime. He has Ministerial experience and a Ph.D. And, to reiterate, he is not only known to the Guardian Council, but has held a position on it.

All would then seem well for Ahmadinejad's plan. However, there is a twist in the tale.

Our correspondent explains, "Ayatollah Khamenei has strongly objected to this."

And why would the Supreme Leader be opposed?

"He is against any change in the government in the months near to election because he has said these changes might provoke sensitivities in Iranian society."

So the manoeuvres continue. Our correespondent offers a provocative conclusion:

Ahmadinejad's policy is always that he make a big fuss out of nothing and becomes provocative and loud, so the system will accept at least some of the things he wants.

In Farsi, we have a saying, "He asks for death so that people will be happy with fever."

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