Country Risk

Iran’s hard-line conservatives secure dominant position in Supreme Leader’s succession process, increasing risk of destabilising politically motivated protests

23 March 2018
People hold posters of the first and second Supreme Leaders of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei, during a ceremony marking the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran on 11 February. Source: Fatemah Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Key Points

  • The voting pattern suggests that the hard-line conservatives have now secured the support of enough clerics in the Assembly of Experts to ensure the selection of a successor acceptable to the hard-line clerical establishment and the powerful Islamic Revolution Guards Corps when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dies.
  • This indicates that the centrist coalition led by President Hassan Rouhani has failed to gain the support of enough centre-leaning conservative clerics in the Assembly to force the selection of a compromise candidate.
  • The hard-line conservatives’ dominance in the succession process decreases risk to state stability emanating from indecision when Khamenei dies. However, it increases the risk of co-ordinated and potentially destabilising politically motivated protests as the only means for centrists to push for a compromise and position for their political survival.


On 13 March 2018, Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the body composed of 88 elected clerics and constitutionally tasked with selecting the next Supreme Leader, voted on its executive board for a two-year term.

Iran’s factional elite infighting has escalated over the nature and future direction of the Islamic Republic, ahead of the anticipated succession to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is 78 and reportedly has prostate cancer.

The hard-line conservatives, consisting of Khamenei, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and the affiliated clerical establishment, insist on playing a major role in the economy and continuing regional ‘resistance’ activities against US interests. These groups and Khamenei fear that any meaningful social, political and economic compromises would weaken them and generate momentum for regime change. In response, the loose centrist coalition led by President Hassan Rouhani has argued that social, political, and economic reforms are necessary for attracting foreign direct investment, which in turn would improve state stability by improving the economy, reducing unemployment and increasing urban youth buy-in.

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