Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei risk a legitimacy crisis as anger boils up at the way the state handled a passenger plane crash. Because the military took three days to admit was caused by an Iranian missile fired in error.
Protesters are demanding Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei step down. On Saturday people shouted Khamenei resign, resign.” Videos posted on Twitter showed hundreds of people chanting, in front of Tehran’s Amir Kabir university.
The belated admission of blame by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards has squandered any national unity after the killing of the country’s most influential commander in a U.S. drone strike.
Since the downing of a Ukraine 737 on Wednesday social media has been ablaze with criticism of the establishment. All 176 people on board the plane, en route from Tehran to Kiev, were killed.
Parliamentary election in February
That mood bodes ill for a parliamentary election in February. When Iran’s rulers typically seek a high turnout to show their legitimacy. Even if the outcome will not change any major policy.
But instead they are now hearing more rumblings of discontent, after anti-government protests in November in which hundreds of people died.
“It is a very sensitive time for the establishment. They face a serious credibility problem. Not only did they conceal the truth, they also mismanaged the situation,” said a senior former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran’s clerics have swept aside challenges to their grip on power. But the kind of distrust between the rulers and the ruled that erupted in protests last year may now have deepened.
“There will be a short-term blow to the regime’s credibility and this will aid the pressure on the regime from the economic and political problems it had before the latest standoff with the U.S.,” said Daniel Byman, senior fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy.
Iranians Protest Death to the Dictator in Tehran
Video clips on Twitter showed protesters in Iran on Saturday chanting “Death to the dictator,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Reuters could not independently verify the footage. It followed a welter of criticism in Iran.
The Guards issued an apology for shooting down the plane, saying air defenses were fired in error during a state of high alert. Iran had expected U.S reprisals after it retaliated for Soleimani’s killing by firing missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed.
One hardline official said the mistake should not be turned into a political weapon against the Government and the Guards. A parallel force to the conventional army that answers directly to Khamenei and is a guardian of the theocratic system.
“Let’s avoid being so harsh. It was a sensitive time and everyone was nervous. You cannot ignore what the Guards have done. Above all to protect the nation and this country since the revolution,” the security official told Reuters.
But Khamenei, who has always cited turnout at elections as a sign of the legitimacy of the system of clerical rule, may now find Iranians are not so keen to show their support.
“Why should I vote for this regime. I don’t trust them at all. They lied to us about the plane crash. Why should I trust them when they don’t trust people enough to tell the truth?,” said Hesham Ghanbari, 27, a university student in Tehran.
The government is already struggling to keep the economy afloat. Especially under increasingly tough U.S. sanctions, imposed by Washington. Vital oil exports have been slashed by embargo’s crippling Iran’s economy.
State news in Iran confirms protests had erupted
Iranian people shocked over downing of Jetliner
Learning that Iranian forces shot down a plane, whether by accident or not, is a further blow. Many of the passengers were dual national Iranians.
Social media was flooded with angry comments from Iranian officials. Many complaining that the authorities had spent more time denying they were to blame for the plane crash than sympathizing with victims’ families.
“It has shocked the public. Once more, the regime carelessly kills its own people,” said Ray Takeyh. Ray is a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“It punctures the already spurious narrative that the killing of Soleimani has united the Iranian people behind their government,” he said.
Alongside the parliamentary vote, the elections on Feb. 21 will also choose members of the Assembly of Experts. A clerical body that in future will be responsible for selecting a successor to Khamenei.
Khamenei, who has no term limit, he has been in office since 1989.