Iran: early elections “controlled” by the Supreme Leader, Khamenei

There were 80 candidates for the presidency of Iran for the elections which will take place this Friday 28 June, a year earlier than expected, due to the death of the ultra-conservative president Ebrahim Raisi in a plane crash on 19 May.

Of these, at least 15 deserved international attention. But, as is known, since the Islamic Republic is a theocracy where decisions are (theoretically) only one man – namely the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – only six were chosen by him, as permitted by the Constitution. Formally, the Council of Guardians decided their names and discarded all the others, i.e. the constitutional body whose twelve members, all ultra-conservative, are called upon to define the list of people “suitable” for presidential candidacy, whatever that means. . But in fact the direct will of the Supreme Leader was respected. Proof of this is that no woman was admitted, just as no independent or other figure appeared who could create problems for the central government.

In this round, thanks to Raisi’s disappearance, the Guardian Council had a really easy time accepting six harmless candidates, according to Khamenei’s wishes: in 2021, when the prematurely deceased president was elected, the candidates deemed suitable were just one more, seven, but out of five hundred candidates and not out of eighty.

Among the possible candidates until a few weeks ago was also the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then discarded for a series of reasons, including the fact that he represents a secular force too compromised with the Pasdaran, the military caste that shares absolute power with the ayatollahs. Among the candidates there is not even the current president in pectore, Mohammad Mokhber, who has conveniently chosen to adapt to the needs of the party of Shiite theologians, probably for personal gain: after the elections, it is likely that he will remain in the palace as vice president.

Here are the other aspiring presidents: Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, speaker of parliament and with an impressive CV, having already been commander of the Revolutionary Guards and mayor of the capital Tehran. By all indications, he is the favorite.

Here are other profiles of men who are complacent with the regime and well-placed in the Iranian power machine: Saeed Jalili, director of the Supreme Leader’s office, and nicknamed “living martyr”; Alireza Zakani, another former mayor of Tehran, a conservative, nicknamed “revolutionary tank”. Then, a colorless figure like the former Interior Minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi; then, Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, former director of the Martyrs and Veterans Foundation (which, for example, supports and finances Hezbollah in Lebanon). As can be seen, in short, they are all names of conservatives who are very loyal to the Supreme Guide.

There is only one apparently independent candidate who fits into the “moderate” category: Masoud Pezeshkian, a doctor and parliamentarian who is considered a reformist, but who is well aware that his hands are tied. The approval of his candidacy, in fact, is considered little more than a shrewd move by the regime, functional to avoid the worst-case scenario for the current leadership: mass abstention.

In fact, more than anything else, the government fears that the Iranian people will translate the growing internal discontent into a new protest, this time silent, which consists of deserting the polls and then calling new street demonstrations. This would embarrass the ayatollahs in no small way, and would be perceived internationally as a resounding rejection of the ayatollahs, thus constituting the definitive delegitimisation of the leadership in power by the population. Especially after the participation rate in the legislative elections held last March was 41%, compared to 42.57% in 2020. This is the lowest turnout ever recorded since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

For this reason, having allowed a reformist candidate like Pezeshkian to run appears functional in breaking the non-voting front. However, even if the reformist Pezeshkian were elected, his mandate would not lead to significant changes: just remember how President Hassan Rouhani had also been presented as a moderate – to the point that even US President Barack Obama placed a lot of trust in him – yet nothing has changed since then, despite the nuclear pact signed with the approval of the White House (a treaty later canceled by Trump). Pezeshkian himself has already put his hands forward, stating that he will not deviate from current laws in any case. This means that not even under his eventual presidency will it be possible to restore greater social freedoms, more individual rights and greater integration of women into society to Iranians.

Ultimately, as things stand, the ayatollahs have already won, because this election seems destined to maintain the status quo. “Which is precisely what we have been fighting for years,” as the activists in the Donna Vita Libertà movement, at the forefront of coordinating civil protests against the regime throughout the country, bitterly comment.

In any case, according to analysts, the next Iranian president will not be a cleric (it has already happened three times, with Abolhassan Bani Sadr, Mohammad-Ali Rajai and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad): if that were the case, the candidacy of Mostafa Pourmohammadi should be discarded immediately, just as there is very little hope for the “reformist” Masoud Pezeshkian.

There are only two people who are really competing for the presidency: Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, as mentioned; and Saeed Jalili, a protégé of Mojtaba Khamenei, son of the supreme leader and the only one capable of challenging Qalibaf for the presidency.

Since in the Iranian system the candidate who gets the absolute majority wins, if no one gets it in the first round (as is likely), there will be a runoff between the 2 most voted. Who could be Qalibaf and Jalili. This is why what is taking place today in Iran seems like yet another election that changes nothing in the power structure: we will most likely witness a painless transition for the regime, which could even strengthen the ultra-conservative component that governs Tehran.