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Some Iranians worry about who will replace Raisi

Tehran – Concerns are growing among some people in Iran about who will replace Ebrahim Raisi as president of the Islamic republic after his death in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

“I’m more worried than sad,” Mohadeseh Jalali said at Wednesday’s funeral in Tehran for Raisi and his entourage who died when their aircraft hit a mountain in northwest Iran during bad weather.

The country is now set to hold an election on June 28 to elect a successor to Raisi.

“How do I find someone like him? I’m really worried about that,” said 31-year-old cleric Mohsen, as state media reported a “million-strong” crowd in capital for the funeral.

“As far as I know, we don’t have anyone of his stature,” added Mohsen, who gave only his first name and who comes from Iran’s clerical capital Qom.

Ahead of next month’s election, campaigning is expected to begin after five days of national mourning announced on Monday.

A presidential election in Iran had not been expected until next year, and Sunday’s crash has caused some uncertainty as to who will succeed Raisi.

The ultraconservative Raisi had been in office since a 2021 election that saw reformist and moderate candidates disqualified.

“I don’t know what will happen” in these elections, Mohsen told AFP, adding that “among potential candidates, there is no consensus among the conservatives”.

Conservatives and ultraconservatives further tightened their grip on power in March when they secured a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.

– Economic crisis –

However, polling was marked by a turnout of 41 percent, the lowest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Again, reformists and moderates had been mostly sidelined and disqualified from standing.

Raisi, during his three years in office, was not beyond criticism, including over his firm response to the widespread women’s protest movement that began in September 2022.

That began after a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, Mahsa Amini, died in custody after her arrest by morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the strict dress code for women.

Months of unrest that followed saw hundreds of people killed, including dozens of security personnel, and thousands arrested.

Iran’s economic crisis — intensified by American sanctions — and worsening tensions with its sworn enemy Israel under Raisi also added to critical voices raised during his tenure.

“I voted for him in the presidential elections of 2017 (when he came second) and also in 2021,” said Mostafa, 37, another cleric who asked that only his first name be used.

“I have no regrets at all,” he said, adding, however, that “the government’s economic performance can be criticised”.

Mostafa said the late president “was not focused on the West” and “did not forget the countries” of the Middle East, such as Sunni Muslim regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

Mostly Shiite Iran and Saudi Arabia resumed ties in March 2023 in a China-brokered deal that ended seven years of hostility.

– ‘Whatever God wills’ –

This resumption came under Raisi and when Hossein Amir-Abdollahian — another victim of Sunday’s crash — was foreign minister.

Mohsen told AFP he believed Iran has gained enough experience since the 1979 Islamic revolution to be able to manage delicate successions.

As an example, he cited Ayatollah Ali Khamenei becoming supreme leader after the death in June 1989 of the founder of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Khamenei, who was president at the time, was designated to become head of the country and “there was no problem”, Mohsen said.

Raisi, also an ayatollah, had been considered by many as a potential successor to Khamenei who is 85, as has the supreme leader’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei.

“The issue of leadership is a divine one,” said Mohsen. “Whatever God wills, that will happen.”

Civil servant Ali Mousavi Nejad, 35, said he was attending Wednesday’s funeral to pay tribute to the victims of the crash and “to carry on their legacy”.

He said the presence of so many people “sends a message to the enemies of the revolution — the path of these martyrs continues, and the people will not be dissuaded from supporting the revolution”.

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