President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, together with two other government officials, on 19 May were killed in a helicopter crash in the province of East Azerbaijan.  

  • While no official cause has yet been given for the crash, reports indicate that it appears to have been due to poor weather conditions.  
  • In the short term, officials will focus on showcasing unity and ensuring a smooth transition and their ability to govern the country with minimal disruption.  
  • As per the constitution, a new presidential election will take place within the next 50 days. Raisi is likely to be replaced by a fellow hardliner.  
  • While this will ensure broad policy continuity, political infighting – particularly relating to the succession of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – will likely intensify.  


The crash occurred in a mountainous area in the northwest province of East Azerbaijan after Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian, along with others, had attended a ceremony marking the inauguration of the Qiz Qalasi Dam on the Iran-Azerbaijan border. A total of nine people were on the helicopter, including the governor of East Azerbaijan, the representative of the supreme leader to the province, the head of the president’s security team, the pilot and the co-pilot. All of those on board were killed.

While no official cause has yet been given for the crash, media reports indicate that it occurred during poor weather conditions, including thick fog.  

Inward looking

In line with article 131 of Iran’s constitution, First Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber has been appointed as interim president, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri as acting foreign minister. A council which includes Mokhber, the speaker of parliament, and the judiciary chief will also be formed to prepare presidential elections within the next 50 days.  

In the meantime, officials will be keen to showcase unity and ensure a smooth transition. A cabinet statement on 20 May stressed that the government will continue to operate "without the slightest disruption”. This echoes a statement earlier in the day by the supreme leader, who said there would be “no disruption in the country's operation”. However, the sudden need to plan a presidential election, originally due in June 2025, and appoint a new foreign minister will constitute a political challenge.  

The elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts took place in March. They saw a record-low turnout amid widespread discontent, further undermining the regime’s legitimacy. With just 50 days to plan a new election and the likely limited number of candidates, turnout for the presidential election is also likely to be low. The latest rounds of polls, including those which took place in March, mainly allowed only hardliners to run, with reformist and moderate figures being largely banned.  

Officials will focus on internal affairs to ensure a smooth transition and avoid any perception of vulnerability inside or outside the country. However, the development comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region – and just weeks after Iran and Israel in mid-April conducted mutual direct attacks, increasing the risk of an open confrontation.  

Despite continuity, succession now uncertain

Raisi – a hardliner who was close to Khamenei – was widely considered as one of the main contenders to succeed the supreme leader. He will likely be replaced by someone close to his camp.

While continuity on most domestic and foreign affairs is therefore likely to be guaranteed, no other conservative candidate enjoys the same level of support and close connection to Khamenei that Raisi had. This is likely to lead to heightened infighting within the conservative camp over the coming months, in both the presidential race and the competition to succeed the supreme leader.

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