7 Things to Know About Seyed Hassan Khomeini’s Candidacy for the Assembly of Experts

Whispers about the nomination of Seyed Hassan Khomeini for election to the Assembly of Experts have been around for a long time, but now an official candidacy announcement has finally come from his brother – news that generated a wave of political and media reactions.

Assembly of Experts (formally, the ‘Assembly of Experts of the Leadership’) elections have the smallest public participation rate of any elected institution in Iran because of the nature of competition for membership in this important institution. Namely, compared to other elected institutions in the Islamic Republic, Assembly elections usually see surprisingly limited competition between candidates.

However, this year’s Assembly elections have attracted greater public attention and are more widely covered by the news media. There are at least two reasons for this: first, political pundits speculate that the new Assembly will end up selecting the next Supreme Leader at some point in its 8-year term. Second, recent challenges within the Islamic Republic’s political system have considerably increased interest in the Assembly.

Seyed Hassan Khomeini’s decision to present his candidacy for the Assembly adds a new element to this election. Here are 7 things to know about why his candidacy matters:

1- Seyed Hassan Khomeini was a child during the (Islamic) revolution, and so did not actively participate in it. If elected as a member of the Assembly, the 43 year-old Khomeini would be the first Assembly member to come from the post-revolution generation. As a result, he can potentially provide a more modern and younger image for the Assembly, exposing it to the country’s middle class and young generation, who constitute a large proportion of the country’s population.

2- Seyed Hassan is the grandson of Ruhollah Khomeini (the late founder and leader of the Islamic Republic) and has a fairly good position in the hierarchy of Seminary studies. He is currently teaching religious studies and it is said that his seminary students like his teaching methods.

3- If Seyed Hassan is elected, he will bring his grandfather’s name and traditions to the Assembly of Experts, and his election would constitute his formal entrance into politics. This is important because some political forces have seriously mused about the idea of his future appointment as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  

4- Despite his efforts to avoid direct political associations or noticeable adherence to a specific faction or party, Seyed Hassan Khomeini has family and social ties to Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Seyed Mohammad Khatami, and Ayatollah (Mohammad Hassan) Bojnourdi. Khomeini’s intellectual approach and social upbringing have also brought his political positions closer to the so-called reformist faction. For this very reason, and because of the prevailing atmosphere in Iran and the fact that his candidacy is from Tehran, the likelihood of his victory with a relatively large number of votes is high. This likelihood has alarmed some in the conservative and hardliner factions.

5- Unlike many other candidates, a disqualification of Khomeini’s candidacy would be interpreted by many in the public as questioning Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy, and surely the leading figures of the Islamic Republic would not be willing to pay a high price for such a public perception. The chance of an invitation for him to sit for the Guardian Council test to confirm his “Ijtehad” (the highest level of expertise in seminary studies) is relatively small. While the prospect of his being required to sit the test is very low, there is nevertheless a chance that his candidacy will be disqualified.  

6- Khomeini could play a decisive role in creating a powerful minority political bloc in the Assembly of Experts, an alliance that could significantly influence the appointment of the next Supreme Leader.

7- If Khomeini is elected with a high number of votes in Tehran, his political life would be elevated to a new stature. His election could serve as a catalyst for connecting the blocs that have thus far not succeeded in cooperating and working together. Seyed Hassan Khomeini has a close relationship with former commanders and senior officials of the Iran-Iraq war era in Sepah (Iran’s Revolutionary Corps). Tehran municipality and its supporting political faction consists of (former) war commanders, and they have actively and comprehensively supported the institutions and associations that are affiliated with Ayatollah Khomeini and his family for a long time. Seyed Hassan has also established close and cordial friendships with the more traditional clergy and the more moderate segments of the conservative faction.

Attention to the above-mentioned elements of Khomeini’s candidacy has spurred the radical segments of the conservative faction within the Islamic Republic to challenge Seyed Hassan Khomeini’s potential election to the Assembly. It is for this very reason that despite an initial silence, they have intensified their propaganda campaign against him, which will most likely increase as we get closer to Election Day.