Ahmadinejad’s popularity dropping
Survey indicates that more than 70 per cent of respondents believe current president would lose votes if an election where held today compared to his results 15 months ago.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Top Iranian leaders are feeling a frosty wind. In one case President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s popularity is taking a nose-dove; in the other, rumours abound about Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s worsening health.

An internet opinion poll launched by the Aftab news website over the last two months ending last Saturday shows that Ahmadinejad is less and less popular since his election in June 2005.

A total of 43,394 Iranian internet users took part in the survey. They were asked: “Fifteen months have passed since the 9th government took office. If elections were to be held right now, do you think Ahmadinejad would gain more votes or less?”

Some 76.2 per cent said Ahmadinejad would gain much less, 15 per cent said less, 5.3 per cent said much more, 2.2 per cent said more, and  1.3 per cent said the same number of votes as before.”

Although extrapolating from an internet opinion poll and applying the results to society as a whole is inappropriate, for one expert said the high number of participants is something unique and unprecedented. At least it shows that at level of the elites and educated strata as well as the urban middle class there is a certain consensus. Hence it can be considered as the view of today’s Iranian society.

What is more, this is happening at a time when Iran’s Supreme Leader is in the terminal phase of cancer, this at least according to Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), a private US geopolitics institute. Should he die, the one man who held the balance between extremists and pragmatists in Iran since the death of the ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 would be removed.

Similarly, sources in Beirut (Lebanon) are reporting that Ahmadinejad's days in power might also be numbered—he could depart the political scene within the year.

The man waiting for both developments to take place is none other than former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who recently became the chairman of the 85-member Assembly of Experts, the body that selects the Supreme Leader.

It is however unclear at this point whether Ahmadinejad or Khamenei would be the first to go, but the president's fate will likely be determined by Khamenei’s health. Ahmadinejad could be forced to resign, be removed by the supreme leader or have a deadly accident, but this is not expected to take place before June. Should Khamenei survive through the summer of 2007, it is quite possible that Rafsanjani would replace Ahmadinejad as president.