The saying “the people have spoken” is not popular with Iran’s hardliners. Besides making unfounded challenges to the results of the May 19 presidential election, they are now bent on undermining the outcome, quickly transforming defeated ultra-conservative candidate Ebrahim Raeesi into a battering ram to attack the Rouhani administration.
Soon after the election results were announced, Ezzatolah Zarghami, the former head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), sent Raeesi a message through Zarghami’s Telegram channel. His 16 million votes, he posted, put him in an “exceptional position” to become a “powerful supervisory alternative to the government.” A day after the election, Raeesi himself issued a statement saying he was able to secure 16 million votes “within only 40 days” — an achievement not to be simply dismissed. He also promised to continue speaking up for Iran’s underprivileged.
The next day, Hossein Shariatmadari had his own congratulatory remarks. The famous managing editor of the hardliner daily Kayan said Raeesi’s “insight and conduct,” as well as his policies, appealed to many people in Iran — and they went to the polls to prove it. “If Mr. Raeesi had had more time to talk to people, there is no doubt that he would have attracted a huge number of more,” he wrote. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel ,former chairman of the parliament, supported Raeesi's own view of himself as the voice of the disenfranchised, calling him “the spokesman for the 16 million people the government owes.”
So are the hardliners essentially trying to put together a shadow government? The hardliner website Raja News referred to it as much, and Saeed Jalili, the former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and the chief nuclear negotiator under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has announced he plans to set up specialist workgroups to supervise the government’s performance.
And will Ebrahim Raeesi be this shadow government’s “Exalted Leader”? All joking aside, Raeesi’s political past and his performance in the election — remember, he could not have been more lackluster during the presidential debates — does not put him in the position of a natural candidate to head up any kind of serious organized alternative government to Hassan Rouhani's administration. Nevertheless, if we assume the campaign for presidency has transformed him into a more experienced, more mature and stronger political personality, then his first step must be to step down from his current job as the custodian of Astan Qods Razavi, the largest religious endowment in Iran, headquartered in the holy city of Mashhad. His executive responsibilities at Astan are many and varied, so he will either have to stay in Mashhad or constantly travel back and forth to Tehran — not exactly consistent with leading a shadow government. At the very least, he would not be able to perform this role effectively — and that's apart from considering whether it would be appropriate.
So he could be the “chief Rouhani opponent.” He could stay at the powerful foundation in Mashhad. But what else could be in Raeesi’s post-election future?
— He could join — or even lead — Iran’s powerful Expediency Council (and stay in close contact with the supreme leader)
The supreme leader appoints everyone on the Expediency Council, which has been set up as an advisory body for the leader. The council has the power to arbitrate among different branches of the government. Raeesi had the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, so it is conceivable that he might be chosen as a new member of the council. Abbas Vaezi Tabasi, his predecessor at Astan Qods Razavi, was also a member of the council but, compared to Raeesi, his prestige was much higher and his friendship with Ayatollah Khamenei and the late Hashemi Rafsanjani much stronger. Even so, considering Raeesi’s new political standing, the chances that he might be appointed cannot be dismissed.
But it could go even further. Since the election, there has been strange and incredible speculation that Raeesi could actually be appointed to be the chairman of the Expediency Council. Not only does Raeesi lack the stature for such a position, he does not enjoy close relations with the heads of the branches of government either. Even in the judiciary, where he spent most of his professional life, he was not particularly close to the elite powers there. Plus, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, one of Iran's most influential politicians, did not endorse Raeesi for the presidency.
— Working directly for the supreme leader
Another possibility is that Raeesi will resign from his job at Astan Qods Razavi and be given a position within the supreme leader’s team in Tehran, where he can continue his political offensive as the head of the principlist coalition the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces (PFIRF). The cost of such a move would be high. If he resigns, it could be misinterpreted, and seen as the supreme leader’s direct response to Raeesi’s defeat — the all-powerful leader dismissing him for his failure.
So Mashhad and the prestigious position at Astan Quds Razavi is probably where he’ll stay. Because not only was Raeesi defeated in the presidential election, but the conservative principlists and Raeesi’s allies even lost Mashhad’s City Council to reformists. So it might be best for him to wait it out. At any rate, it’s a job with undeniable benefits, and a good way of ensuring a lucrative future, at least for the next four years.