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

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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.

Insight into plans for upcoming elections

Khamenei's words may provide an early clue to how Iran's hardline leadership will deal with the upcoming elections, which would be the first nationwide vote since the star-crossed exercise of 2009.

Millions of Iranians, wearing green of the opposition Green Movement and carrying signs that read 'Where's my vote?" took to the streets that year to protest the officially announced landslide for Ahmadinejad. In the lethal crackdown, scores of pro-democracy Iranians were killed, many raped, thousands arrested, and their actions described as "against God" in show trials.

As a result, some Green Movement leaders say the opposition will not take part in upcoming elections. Top opposition leaders remain under house arrest, including Mir Hossein Moussavi, the man who challenged Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2009, and who, ironically, was the last to serve as Iran's prime minister in the 1980s.

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