What happens next: Death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi


Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash on 19 May. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian also died in the incident.

The helicopter, a 30-year-old Bell 212, crashed in the mountainous Varzeqan area of East Azerbaijan province, killing all passengers. The helicopter was travelling back from Azerbaijan, where Raisi had attended the inauguration of the Qiz Qalasi Dam. Early reports indicate that poor visibility due to heavy fog caused the accident. These adverse weather conditions complicated rescue operations, which were already difficult due to the mountainous local terrain. The Iranian Red Crescent Society, alongside Turkish air support, primarily led rescue operations, although Iraq, Russia and Azerbaijan offered assistance.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber will serve as interim president until early elections on 28 June.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei activated Article 131 of the constitution following Raisi’s death. Ali Bagheri Kani, Amir Abollahian’s deputy, will take charge of foreign affairs during the interim period. Mokhber, alongside the heads of the legislative and judicial branches, will organise early elections for 28 June. The Iranian president is the second-highest ranking official, with significant executive responsibilities. However, the Supreme Leader is the most consequential position in Iran, retaining ultimate executive, military and judicial authority. Raisi became president after winning the 2021 presidential election, in which he won 72.35% of the votes. In the run-up to the 2021 election, the Guardian Council disqualified Raisi’s principal political rivals.

Transitional risks in Iran remain low despite Raisi’s death

The processes of the Iranian political system are resilient to presidential transitions. Post the 1979 revolution, Ruhollah Khomenei designed the Iranian political system so that ultimate authority is invested in the position of Supreme Leader. Holders of other political positions, such as the president and parliament’s speaker, cannot genuinely challenge the authority of the supreme leader. As such, the death of a president doesn’t present a power vacuum that other state or non-state actors are able to exploit. We also assess that there is no actor within Iran with the intent or capability to challenge the overall political system.

However, Khamenei has no convincing candidates to succeed Raisi. Khamenei engineered Raisi’s 2021 election by using the Guardian Council to disqualify all of his genuine political rivals. This was because Khamenei wanted a compliant president in a critical period amid challenges relating to Iran’s nuclear program and relations with Saudi Arabia. However, this meant that potential rivals to Raisi assessed that mounting a genuine campaign to challenge Raisi in the 2025 elections would be futile. Potential candidates in the upcoming 28th June election are highly unlikely to be prepared for an electoral campaign, both within the short or long-term.

Public agitation risks could increase in the medium-term

In our ‘Most Likely Scenario’, the Supreme Leader ensures the election of a hard-line presidential candidate.

To ensure foreign policy continuation amid the current critical challenges posed by the recent confrontation with Israel and Western targeting of Iran’s proxy groups, Khamenei ensures that the Guardian Council disqualifies all prominent candidates that could seek to alter current foreign policy. Khamenei throws his weight behind either parliamentary speaker Qalibaf or current Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani. Public agitation increases following the presidential election, with the lack of genuine political competition frustrating the reformist-leaning electorate. This increases the potential of anti-government protest activity in the medium term, as protest attendance, which is generally led by disaffected youth, is boosted by reformist political supporters.

Advice for organisations and travellers in-country

  • Continually review your communications plan and ensure it remains viable. This should include alternative means of communication, a check-in schedule with risk managers or providers and lost communications procedures.
  • Refrain from participating in political discussions, even on social media. Be aware of the cultural and political sensitivities, especially those surrounding popular public figures, and local laws regulating free speech and political dissent.
  • Register with your relevant embassy in Iran if possible.
  • Ensure the ‘watch country’ function is set to ‘Iran’ on the Healix Travel Oracle app for updates on the latest security developments.
  • Liaise with the Healix Global Security Operations Centre for the most up-to-date information and analysis.
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