Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani dies at 82

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who ruled from 1989 to 1997, passed away on January 8 at the age of 82.

Mr Rafsanjani was blocked from the ballot by Iran's election overseers - presumably anxious about boosting his already wide-ranging influence.

Throughout his political career, the former president was seen as a conduit for better relations with the West.

"The soul of a giant of the revolution and politics, the embodiment of patience and perseverance, has ascended to heaven", Rouhani said in a Twitter posting soon after Rafsanjani's death was announced. After helping end the war, he served as president from 1989 to 1997, a crucial and mostly productive period in the country's post-revolution and post-war history.

Ayatollah Rafsanjani was the head of the Assembly of Experts from 2007 until 2011.

Mr. Rafsanjani took a dim view of state control of the economy - even in the turbulent years after the Islamic Revolution - and encouraged private businesses, development of Tehran's stock market and ways to boost Iranian exports. An aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the country's 1979 revolution, Rafsanjani served on the Revolutionary Council that helped transform the newborn Islamic Republic from a monarchy into a theocracy.

Iran watchers believe that he persuaded Khamenei to back a historic nuclear deal, reached between Iran and six major powers in 2015. Another presidential comeback bid was snuffed out by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's surprise victory in 2005 elections, which left Mr Rafsanjani and his powerful clan as fierce critics of Mr Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani's death means that president Hassan Rouhani, a close confidante, is now the main leader of those calling for change in Iran. Rafsanjani's death is likely to revive speculations about Khamenei's succession.

After Khamenei assumed the position of supreme leader, Rafsanjani was elected president for two terms. He eventually called for the release of political prisoners and more political freedoms and progressive economic policies within the country. Analysts said the sentence was aimed at pressuring Rafsanjani.

After the election in 2009, when the results of the election ignited eight months of violent street unrest, Rafsanjani and his family came under fierce criticism from hardliners over their support for the opposition movement which lost the vote to hardline president Ahmadinejad. He had three sons Mohsen, Mehdi, and Yasser, and two daughters, Fatemeh and Faezeh.