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Iranian President's Death in Helicopter Crash Triggers New Election and Succession Concerns

Raisi's death in helicopter crash on May 19 reshapes Iran's presidential election and supreme leader succession.

By Jack Wilson

5/21, 17:00 EDT

Key Takeaway

  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's death in a helicopter crash on May 19 has led to the scheduling of a new presidential election on June 28.
  • Mohammad Mokhber, the first vice president, is named interim president and will oversee the election process alongside judiciary and parliament leaders.
  • Raisi's death impacts the succession for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, potentially clearing a path for his son Mojtaba amid concerns over inherited rule.

Raisi's Death and Immediate Aftermath

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash on May 19, leading to the scheduling of a new presidential election on June 28. Raisi's death has significant implications, particularly as he was a potential successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. The crash, which also claimed the life of Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, occurred amid dense fog in a mountainous area while returning from an event on the border with Azerbaijan. Authorities attributed the crash to "technical failure."

The helicopter involved was identified as a Bell 212, a US model that ceased production in 1998. Due to sanctions, Iran has been unable to purchase new aircraft or components from US and European suppliers since the 1979 revolution, relying on its engineers to maintain an aging fleet. Iranian TV showed the crashed helicopter with only its tail intact, and rescue efforts were hampered by poor weather conditions.

Interim Leadership and Election Plans

Following Raisi's death, Mohammad Mokhber, the first vice president, was named interim president. Mokhber, a former officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a one-time head of an endowment managing the country's assets, will oversee the organization of the new presidential election alongside the judiciary chief and the parliament speaker. The election is expected to be held within 50 days, as per the constitution.

In an effort to maintain stability, Ayatollah Khamenei addressed the nation on the evening of Raisi's death, urging the public not to expect any disruptions in governance. Analysts suggest that the tightly managed election process will likely prevent any significant policy changes, even with a new president.

Implications for Supreme Leader Succession

Raisi's death has potential ramifications for the succession of Ayatollah Khamenei, who is 84 years old. Raisi was considered a top contender for the supreme leader position, alongside Khamenei's son, Mojtaba. With Raisi's passing, Mojtaba is now seen as having a clearer path to the top office. However, appointing Mojtaba could be controversial due to Iran's historical opposition to inherited rule, a concept vehemently opposed by the leaders of the 1979 revolution.

Mojtaba's popularity remains untested as he does not hold any government position and has rarely been seen publicly. For the supreme leader to have legitimacy, there needs to be an appearance of authentic support from the masses who back the current religious system.