According to Germany’s newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitun, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will step down when his second term ends and will not pull a Vladimir Putin, returning to power later. When asked why he was leaving, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying, “Eight years are enough.” By Iranian law, presidents are limited to two consecutive terms.
With all the bellicose rhetoric Ahmadinejad has spouted over the years, it is difficult to imagine why he would not fight to stay in power, unless someone more powerful than he is really in charge. And there is someone more powerful: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — and from reports, he and Ahmadinejad have been fighting for control of the Islamic Republic.
Haleh Esfandiari, director of Middle Eastern studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, said, “I think Ahmadinejad underestimated the power of Khamenei, and he overestimated his own power. You can step on anybody’s toes, but not on his toe.”
Ahmadinejad has attempted to replace top officials with people more sympathetic to him, but he has failed, even to the extent of having those members of the government who were close to him looking precarious as Khamenei threatens to force Ahmadinejad out.
Analyst Alireza Nader of the RAND Corp. said, “I think it’s a symptom of the general dissatisfaction with President Ahmadinejad that his powers and movement are being curtailed by the various power centers in Iran.”
It is possible that the sanctions against Iran from the international community are beginning to threaten all the power structures in Iran, including Khamenei, but he is just as opposed to the West as Ahmadinejad. Whether Ahmadinejad stays or goes, nuclear weapons in Iran remain a frightening prospect.