When it comes to education and familiarity with Western philosophy, there are few right-wing politicians in Iran who can match Ali Ardeshir Larijani.
Holding a Ph.D. in Western philosophy from Tehran University, amongst other things he has written four books on Immanuel Kant and is one of the leading intellectuals in the field.
These days he is serving as the speaker of the Iranian parliament (Majlis). The members of parliament whom he oversees are in charge of reviewing and passing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies. With eight months to go before the presidential elections, the Iranian president desperately needs his economic plans to be passed by the Majlis. Otherwise, he may fall from favor with the supreme leader.
To Ahmadinejad’s dismay, Larijani has openly declared that no economic plans or projects will be passed by the Majlis if they contribute to the country’s inflationary problems. The problem for Ahmadinejad is that the majority of his economic plans, which consist of injecting cash into the economy, add to the inflationary problems. In fact, populist spending policies without any consideration for inflationary impact are the linchpin of “Ahmadinejad-onomics.”
In the previous Majlis, Ahmadinejad got away with this policy because Hadad Adel, the previous speaker, was relatively close to him. On one scandalous occasion, Hadad Adel even allowed Ahmadinejad to break the law by allowing him extra time past his deadline to present justification for his economic plans. The extra time was given for no reason and without any promises from the president as to when he would present the mandatory report on his economic plans. This is one of the reasons why Hadad Adel lost his position. Majlis members were tired of his unwarranted leniency towards Ahmadinejad.
But with Larijani it is different. First and foremost, he does not have Hadad Adel’s connections. The previous Majlis speaker’s daughter is married to Khamenei’s son. Larijani, although well connected, does not have such a close family connection to the most powerful man in Iran.
Also, Larijani is less confident when it comes to domestic politics. He does not have a lot of experience in this sphere, which is crucial for aspiring presidents. This is why it is very important to him that the Majlis under his term does not add to the country’s economic problems. This is one reason why he has decided to stand up to Ahmadinejad’s damaging economic policies.
The other reason why Larijani has decided to take a stance against Ahmadinejad — and probably a bigger one — is revenge. Larijani has been waiting a long time to settle scores after the president, with his belligerent behavior, forced him to resign as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in October 2007. This came at a cost to Larijani: before this event, he was Iran’s top diplomat. In fact, he carried more weight and credibility than Iran’s foreign minister, Manuchehr Mottaki. In important foreign circles such as the European Union, there was more appreciation for Larijani than Ahmadinejad, who was seen as a loose cannon.
Therefore, Ahmadinejad has good reason to be concerned about the new internal challenge facing him.
Meanwhile, for Larijani and his presidential ambitions, making Ahmadinejad’s life difficult will help, but it will not automatically turn him into the most popular candidate for the presidency. In the last presidential elections, Larijani only received five percent of the vote. With candidates such as Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who is the mayor of Tehran, and Hassan Rowhani, who was Larijani’s predecessor as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and is expected to run for the presidency, Larijani will have his work cut out.
Iran’s deteriorating economic situation will be one area where Larijani will have to prove his mettle. How does he plan to get Iran out of the current mess, which is about to become worse with the current global crisis?
As Larijani knows and has publicly stated, Iran is not immune to the downturn. One area which is already showing an impact is oil prices. Reaching $70 per barrel, this is $30 lower than the $100 per barrel mark which Iran has set as the minimum “suitable” price for its economy. So how does Larijani plan to make up for the expected shortfall?
Also, during the last elections Larijani promised expansion and jobs through increased foreign investment. This is going to be a more difficult goal to achieve for the next, due to Iran’s isolation. Therefore this time Larijani will have to come up with broad-ranging economic reform programs, otherwise the Iranian voter may cast him aside.
If he realizes that he has no chance to win, that will not stop the Iraqi-born Ali Ardeshir Larijani from making life difficult for Ahmadinejad. Iranian politics is full of stories about how one politician turned against another and how the victim settled scores with him later on. Except the supreme leader, no Iranian politician is immune to this.
The president of Iran won the last elections by cheating, which was allowed by Ayatollah Khamenei. This, plus Ahmadinejad’s belligerent economic and foreign policy, has made him many enemies. The current presidential campaign is when many of them will want to get back at the president. This is why the upcoming race is expected to be one of the most entertaining ever.