Montazeri Chosen as Khomeini Successor
The Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri has been chosen in secret assembly to become Iran’s supreme leader when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dies or steps down, spokesmen for both men said Saturday.
Montazeri, 63, a prominent theologian, holds no official position in the current Islamic regime in Tehran, but he has always been considered the heir-apparent to the ailing, 86-year-old Khomeini.
Montazeri, a pragmatic senior cleric, is close to Khomeini and backed by a wide variety of factions within the nation’s Islamic revolutionary leadership. He was tortured and jailed before the 1979 revolution that overthrew the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
He was chosen during a closed-door meeting of the 83-man Assembly of Experts, the spokesmen said. The timing was a surprise, and Khomeini’s spokesman gave no reason for it.
The assembly had been constitutionally entrusted to select either a single successor or three- or five-man councils to take over the leadership.
News of the decision was first revealed during a Friday sermon in Qazvin, east of Tehran, by prayer leader Ahmed Barikbin. The report was later carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
The supreme leader has wide-ranging constitutional powers including supreme command of the armed forces.
Khomeini met members of the assembly last week but no details of their discussions were made public.
Posters of Montazeri’s gray-bearded face with thick spectacles flank those of Khomeini in official places and he has acted as Khomeini’s semi-official deputy for some years.
Montazeri lives in the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, where he works as a theologian and teacher. He has taken a special interest in unifying rival Shia Muslim Afghan groups fighting Soviet forces in their country.
Born in a poor peasant family, Montazeri displays a simplicity and candor that are a marked contrast to the grim public demeanor of the patriarchal Khomeini.
Montazeri has acted as an ombudsman for the revolution, lambasting the country’s bloated bureaucracy, corruption and foot-dragging on social reforms.
In pragmatic political statements, he has voiced support for peasants, small businesses, freedom of the press and a measure of political pluralism.
Although he has radical views on the export of the Islamic revolution, in general he has sought to give it “a kinder face.”
A typical stand came in a meeting with judges when he said, “In Islam, it is better if a guilty person escapes justice than that an innocent man receives punishment.”