WASHINGTON, DC – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now made the mistake that all Iranian presidents make: he has challenged the authority of the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is doomed to fail.
The challenge posed by Ahmadinejad is such a predictable part of Iranian politics that it has come to be known as “the president’s symptom.” It emerges from a president’s confidence that, as a popularly elected leader, he should not be constrained by the Supreme Leader’s oversight. But the Islamic Republic’s history is littered with its presidents’ failed attempts to consolidate an independent power center. Ultimately, divine authority trumps political authority.
This dual authority is embedded in the Islamic Republic’s constitution, and inevitably tilts toward the divine, particularly in a president’s second term. Ahmadinejad is not an exception to this rule. In fact, because he has pushed harder than his predecessors, his star is falling faster. Moreover, the controversial presidential election of June 2009, and the political crisis that ensued, irreparably damaged Ahmadinejad’s democratic legitimacy.
Khamenei was forced to use his authority to support the president, and has since repeatedly condemned the “Green Movement” that opposed Ahmadinejad’s re-election. As a result, Ahmadinejad has been the most costly president for Khamenei to date, because he forced the Supreme Leader to deplete his power in the face of a common enemy – a move that called into question his own judgment and tarnished his reputation.