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On the road, Iran's Khamenei sets stage for a less democratic future

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Khamenei's comments "reflect ... a nearly decade-long conservative, undemocratic trend in Iranian politics where political change has been engineered and managed," writes Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington.

"Should Iran decide to eliminate the post of a directly elected president, the primary role of a reinstated premiership would be to execute the Supreme Leader's directives," Mr. Marashi writes on the Tehran Bureau website. "This was – and continues to be – what is expected from Ahmadinejad. His increasing intransigence has only sped up an otherwise steady moving process toward the domestic vision for Iran that many unelected officials hold: more Islamic than republican."

The possibility of such substantial change harkened back more than two decades, when Iran's Constitution was tweaked by the leader of the revolution. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini changed the Constitution to pave the way for a mid-ranking cleric with less popular support – in this case Khamenei, who had been president twice in the 1980s – to assume the supreme post.

Khomeini passed away months later, and Khamenei was elevated to "ayatollah" almost immediately. But he had neither the charisma nor religious learning to fully grasp the reins of leadership, in the view of many more-senior clerics.

"Of course, any change and modernization and reviewing of policies must be based on Islamic principles," Khamenei said on Sunday, according to a transcript posted on Khamenei's official webpage. "The changes must also conform with the Constitution," he said, and would be made "without deviation from the path" of the revolution.

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