By Shahriar Kia

From the day after his death, members of the faction in Iran following the example set by former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have expressed major concerns over their future.

Rafsanjani is gone and others in the same regime faction have lost their main figure in the Iranian regime’s establishment. What demands understanding, especially for those in the West, is that Iran is no democracy with two or more political parties. It is a dictatorship system similar to those dating back to the Middle Ages, with various factions seeking to further their influence and control under one ultimate leading figure.

The Rafsanjani camp is now dubbed as the Rouhani faction, in reference to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. And while figures such as Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Iranian regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini, are mentioned as possible heirs to Rafsanjani’s political throne, the harsh reality is he is considered irreplaceable for this trend, and the entire regime for that matter.

The absence of Rafsanjani’s is far more drastic for the mullahs’ apparatus in its totality. As explained by Iranian opposition leaderMaryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Rafsanjani played a vital role as considered the regime’s number two man and a balancing element in maintaining the mullahs in power. Therefore, with Rafsanjani gone, the mullahs have lost their domestic and foreign balancing element. With the May presidential elections just around the corner, this regime in its entirety will be facing a major crisis.

Rafsanjani’s role inside Iran

Rafsanjani specific role in establishing, structuring and forming this regime–even prior to Khomeini’s rise to power in 1979–swells the impact of his absence for the Iranian regime.

Even in the final days of the Shah’s rule, Khomeini tasked Rafsanjani with very sensitive missions.

Rafsanjani facilitated Khamenei’s rise to power

The mullahs’ regime faced a major identity crisis following the death of Khomeini back in 1988, a time when senior officials in their remarks emphasized their concern of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

At such a sensitive juncture, Rafsanjani’s influence was the driving force behind Khamenei’s overnight crowning as the supreme leader to facilitate their all-out sidestepping any major domestic crisis.

Khamenei acknowledged this reality in a message saying for him Rafsanjani was like no other in the mullahs’ regime.

The May elections

Following Rafsanjani’s death, pro-appeasement advocates in the West began sounding alarm bells, claiming this will boost “hardliners” in the face of “moderates/reformists” inside Iran.

Such a definition of different factions in Iran is outright wrong, and a result of motivated pro-engagement propaganda. These voices suggest in the absence of Rafsanjani, the West should place its support behind Rouhani and his loyalists, claiming any policy otherwise–and especially meaningful measures against Iran’s nuclear program,Middle East meddling and support for terrorismballistic missile driveand human rights violations–will benefit Khamenei and theRevolutionary Guards.

The presidency in Iran, currently held by Rouhani, is merely a symbolic post with no identity. It is nothing but a deceptive leverage controlled by the supreme leader, being Khamenei, who enjoys the last word on all national security and foreign matters.

As a result, the regime in its entirety sees before it a major crisis only two months prior to crucial presidential elections. The absence of Rafsanjani will push this dilemma further out of the regime’s control, and both Khamenei and Rouhani factions will suffer.

In such a scenario, a repeat of the 2009 uprisings at a much larger and more dangerous scale for the regime is highly possible. And again, both factions in the mullahs’ regime will suffer immensely, considering such a development as a red line.

Shahriar Kia is a member of Iranian opposition (PMOI/MEK), and a political analyst writing about Iran and the Middle East. He graduated from North Texas University. He tweets at @shahriarkia