A former president and a key figure in the Iranian Revolution, Rafsanjani was regarded as a pragmatic conservative and a friend to moderates. He died on Sunday at the age of 82.

Thousands of Iranians gathered for the funeral of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday.
Thousands of Iranians gathered for the funeral of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday.

What was Rafsanjani's domestic influence?

The former president who served from 1989 to 1997, was regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran after the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He became a key figure in the Iranian Revolution, (also called the Islamic Revolution) that toppled the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

Rafsanjani was elected as head of Iran's parliament in 1980 and served until 1989, when he was elected for the first of two four-year terms as president.

Only months after the revolution, Rafsanjani was shot once in the stomach by gunmen from one of the groups vying for power amid the political turmoil. He was not seriously wounded — and neither was his wife, who jumped in front to shield him from the attack.

He advocated for a free market, even in the turbulent years after the 1979 revolution in Iran.

The wealthy son of pistachio farmers, Rafsanjani encouraged private businesses, developed Tehran's stock market and found ways to boost Iranian exports.

Under his leadership new roads were built and villages were connected to electrical, telephone and water networks for the first time.

Rafsanjani was a long time member of the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that appointed the country's supreme leader. He also held the chairmanship of Iran's main political arbitration body, the Expediency Council from 1990.

For many ordinary Iranians, he was a figure of suspicion and grudging respect for amassing a vast fortune.

Rafsanjani advocated for the release of political prisoners and press freedom even as opponents argued he was not so benevolent during his term in power.

Rafsanjani who focused on economic liberalisation was described as
Rafsanjani who focused on economic liberalisation was described as "a pillar of the Islamic revolution". (Reuters)

What role did he play in Iran's foreign policy?

Rafsanjani shaped Tehran's relationship with the West and pushed for a US-friendly foreign policy, believing that it would pave the way for a stronger Iran.

He was instrumental in persuading Iran's supreme religious leader, Ruollah Khomeini, to accept the peace deal that ended the bloody Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988. Over one million people died in the conflict.

He was also an important backer of the deal the current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani struck with six world powers in 2015 to curb Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that crippled Iran's economy.

"He was a consequential figure inside Iran. But you know, for what potential impact this could have on Iranian policy, I wouldn't speculate." White House spokesman Josh Ernest said.

What does his death mean for the political climate in the country?

It is a major setback for moderates and reformists who have lost their most powerful figure, ahead of presidential elections in May.

A key supporter of Rouhani, Rafsanjani's behind the scenes negotiations were often used to temper the more conservative hard liner camp. As an advocate for greater participation in world affairs, Rafsanjani's death is likely to undermine efforts by Rouhani and other moderates who believe establishing stronger ties with the US would secure the Islamic Republic's future.

"Hard-liners will be happy, but this is the start of a period of anxiety for many. His death disturbs the fragile balance we had in Iran," Fazel Meybodi, a cleric from the holy city Qum who supports reforms in Iran, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies