Death of Iran's Rafsanjani could push back moderate views

Mr Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president known for his moderate views and pragmatism, died on Sunday.
Mr Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president known for his moderate views and pragmatism, died on Sunday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Mourners surrounding his coffin during a ceremony at the Jamaran mosque in Teheran, Iran.
Mourners surrounding his coffin during a ceremony at the Jamaran mosque in Teheran, Iran.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

DUBAI • Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a co-founder of the Islamic republic, who later proposed freeing the economy from state control and promoted more moderate views than many of his peers, has died from heart failure. He was 82.

Mr Rafsanjani died hours after being admitted to a Teheran hospital on Sunday.

The country went into mourning as soon as his death was signalled by television channels showing images of him praying, and broadcasting his speeches and sermons.

At the time of his death, he was chairman of the Expediency Council, a political body tasked with resolving disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council, a watchdog agency comprised of hardline clerics and jurists.

Author Trita Parsi of the forthcoming book, Losing An Enemy - Obama, Iran And The Triumph Of Diplomacy, said Mr Rafsanjani's death "could not have come at a worse time for moderate forces in Iran".

The leader has been described as "a pillar of the Islamic revolution". His pragmatic policies - economic liberalisation, better relations with the West and empowering elected bodies - appealed to many Iranians but were despised by hardliners.

Few have wielded such influence in modern Iran but since 2009, Mr Rafsanjani and his family have faced political isolation over their support for the opposition movement which lost a disputed election that year to Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He was also a member of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that selects the supreme leader, Iran's most powerful figure. His absence from that debate means the chances of a pragmatist emerging as the next supreme leader are reduced. His death ahead of May's presidential elections is a blow to current president, Mr Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who allied himself with Mr Rafsanjani to win the 2013 election and went on to resolve Iran's long stand-off with the West on the nuclear programme.

"The soul of the great man of the Revolution, symbol of patience and resistance has gone to Heaven," President Rouhani tweeted.

Professor Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, also said his death could not have come at a worse time, as United States President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office.

He said: "With what is happening in the US and the possible instability that is going to come in US policy, you need a voice of reason and pragmatism that has some heft to it. He was that voice."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'Death of Iran's Rafsanjani could push back moderate views'. Print Edition | Subscribe