Iranian Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani on Friday turned a memorial service for the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini into a mass rally for Khomeini’s successor.
The Speaker has moved this week to bolster the reputation of President Ali Khamenei, who was picked to succeed Khomeini as supreme political and religious leader. Rafsanjani and Khamenei are considered moderates.
During his sermon at the Friday prayer service at Tehran University, Rafsanjani said Khamenei meets the conditions Khomeini outlined for his successor.
“Obeying Khamenei is obeying Khomeini,” chanted the crowd of hundreds of thousands who packed the campus and surrounding streets for miles. Families knelt on prayer mats in the streets.
The appointment of Khamenei, only a middle-ranking cleric, was initially viewed as temporary. However, Rafsanjani said Thursday that it is permanent.
During Friday’s memorial, Rafsanjani and other leaders sat cross-legged on carpets next to the rostrum, which held a color portrait of Khomeini.
While he spoke, Rafsanjani clutched the barrel of an AK-47 assault rifle, as he usually does at the Friday prayer service. The gun symbolizes the determination of Iran to fight its enemies.
The Speaker said that Khomeini, although he did not specifically name a successor, had hinted that Khamenei is qualified.
He said that Khomeini, who died of a heart attack Saturday at age 86, wrote that his successor need not be a marja, or supreme religious leader, even though the constitution says so.
Khomeini had given permission many times for officials to overlook the constitution, Rafsanjani said, adding, “We all accept that leadership is above the constitution.”
Khamenei, 49, was selected to succeed Khomeini on Sunday by the Assembly of Experts. Khomeini had formed the 83-member group to handle his succession.
Iranian press reports have started calling Khamenei an ayatollah, a title reserved for the highest religious leaders.
In another sign of Khamenei’s rising fortunes, the official Islamic Republic News Agency announced that Iran’s military commanders met with him Thursday to declare their allegiance.
Also on Thursday, Rafsanjani signaled his own intention of playing a bigger political role, telling foreign reporters he wants more executive power for the presidency.
Rafsanjani, 55, is the only declared candidate in the Aug. 18 presidential election.
Khamenei’s second term as president expires in October, and the constitution bars him from running again.
Iranian moderates such as Rafsanjani seek to end the country’s international isolation and boost private enterprise. Radicals hard-liners favor a self-reliant, fundamentalist Iran.