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Iran’s Leadership Entangled in Escalating Power Struggle Ahead of Parliamentary Elections

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As Iran’s staged parliamentary elections approach, political tensions within the regime have intensified vividly. On Wednesday, August 30, Ali Khamenei, the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, used the occasion of the so-called “Week of the Government” to commend the performance of President Ebrahim Raisi. Khamenei asserted that over the past two years, Iran has witnessed notable improvements in key macroeconomic indicators, particularly in the industrial sector. These indicators include increased investment growth, reduced inflation, decreased unemployment, lower income inequality, and a boost in exports, Khamenei claimed.

Ebrahim Raisi’s government has faced unrelenting political, economic, and social setbacks in recent months. As a wide range of rival factions and media outlets aligned with them have vocally criticized the government’s policies and failures, Khamenei’s recent defense of Raisi appears to be an attempt to shield him from criticism, especially considering his own prominent role in bringing Raisi to power.

Following Khamenei’s support for Raisi’s administration coupled with Raisi’s own statements that “victories are on the horizon” and that “all of the country’s economic indicators are on a growth trajectory,” the Parliamentary Research Center released a report revealing that Raisi’s government has incurred debts exceeding 3 trillion tomans. The move hints at a direct confrontation, not with President Raisi, but with Khamenei himself.

When the eleventh parliament took office in 2019, Hassan Rouhani led the executive branch, and it was not surprising that the parliament, led by his rival Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, sought to undermine Rouhani’s administration.

However, when Khamenei consolidated power and acquired his long-desired “young Hezbollahi government” in 2021, he likely believed that the parliament, carefully vetted through the Guardian Council’s oversight, would be more compliant with his directives. Yet, the past two years revealed Khamenei’s beliefs to be unfounded.

The discord between Raisi’s government and Ghalibaf’s parliament escalated to the point where Khamenei was compelled to intervene during the Eid al-Fitr ceremony in 2023. He called on the leaders of the three branches of government to “refrain from engaging in peripheral issues.”

However, this did little to dampen the ongoing conflict between the parliament and the government. Impeachment proceedings against several cabinet ministers from Raisi’s government and widespread rumors of Ghalibaf’s potential removal from the speakership in the upcoming elections were only the public manifestations of this discord.

In response to these disputes, the Hammihan newspaper issued a cautionary message to Ghalibaf in an article titled “Leadership Positions and Divisions of Revolutionaries”, warning him that he must refrain from leveraging the Supreme Leader’s support for the parliament to undermine Raisi’s administration.

Furthermore, following the parliamentary report that criticized Raisi’s economic performance, another faction called “Sharyan,” led by Hamid Rasaee, moved to challenge Ghalibaf. They issued a warning through an article that explicitly conveyed, “Ghalibaf and the parliamentary representatives are not authorized to critique the government. Any criticism, inquiry, impeachment, or objection against the Raisi administration now signifies a direct opposition to the Supreme Leader of the Revolution.”

Nevertheless, Ghalibaf, perceiving his position as secure due to Khamenei’s praise and support of what he called “the revolutionary parliament,” is now actively positioning himself to confront Raisi and assume a more prominent role in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. There is even speculation of his participation in future presidential elections, potentially challenging Raisi’s presidency.

While Khamenei advocates for “unity among the branches of government and refraining from engaging in peripheral issues,” it is evident that his plea for unity is not resonating even among his own political factions. This situation is likely to further intensify internal tensions and is unlikely to be ignored by the discontented Iranian populace.

Since 2020, driven by concerns about international isolation and the need to suppress looming uprisings, Khamenei has embarked on a high-stakes gamble. He purged many former allies and close associates in pursuit of consolidated power. However, he now faces widespread dissatisfaction both within the lower ranks and at the highest authorities of his regime, with voices against his own policies growing louder by the day.