The Iranian president is threatened by a powerful conservative rivalby Ali Ansari / May 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
The upcoming presidential elections in Iran—to be held on 19th May—is for the regime first and foremost about political theatre, turnout and legitimacy. For Iran’s leaders a balance has to be struck between having a credible competition and retaining control over the process. When this works well, the stability of the regime is reinforced, as with the election of the current president Hassan Rouhani in 2013, and the somewhat opaque parliamentary elections in 2016. The calamitous presidential election of 2009—when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tainted victory led to mass demonstrations by reformists—are a good example of what happens when the system breaks down. Indeed, the experience of 2009 has so scarred the political elite, not least the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that extra care and attention is now given to the management of the elections. The voting itself is a mere punctuation point in a wider process of negotiation—and manipulation.
Iran credits itself with being one of the few countries in the region to actually hold competitive elections. Its chief rival for the mantle of “Muslim democracy” has been Turkey, but events there have taken a turn for the worse, so Iran no longer has to worry about the comparison. That said, the colourful nature of the election campaign, including the sometime rumbustious candidate debates, should not disguise the fact that the process is heavily managed and the system open to abuse.
The most obvious part of this is the opaque vetting procedure administered by the Guardian Council, a conservative body of 12 lawyers, half appointed by the Supreme Leader, who are not obliged to give any reason for their disbarment of candidates. There is an appeals process but this rarely leads to significant changes. This year some 1,600 hopefuls registered their candidacies, which the Guardian Council, in a spectacular exercise of administrative efficiency, managed to whittle down to six in the space of a week.
Of these six, only four are significant figures with a chance of winning. One of whom is the current occupant, Hassan Rouhani, and another his vice-president and wing-man in this election whose role is to support him, Ehsaq Jahangiri. Their two opponents are the current Mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, competing in his third successive election; and the dark horse, cleric Ebrahim Raisi, recently appointed head…