Iran: Peo­ple, power and the politics of re­li­gion

As Ira­ni­ans vote for their pres­i­dent, Jon Gam­brell ex­plains the na­tion’s power struc­tures

Weekend Herald - - WORLD - The supreme leader’s power The pres­i­dent’s pow­ers Nar­row­ing the field of can­di­dates Rouhani’s cam­paign Rouhani’s main op­po­nent How Ira­ni­ans vote A look at elec­tion over­sight So is Iran a democ­racy?

ra­ni­ans voted overnight for the next pres­i­dent of the Is­lamic Repub­lic. Early re­sults are ex­pected this evening. And if no can­di­date gets over 50 per cent, there will be a runoff next week.

But how does the elected leader fit into the coun­try’s cler­i­cally man­aged gov­ern­ment that ap­proves can­di­dates ul­ti­mately over­seen by its supreme leader? Here’s a look: At the heart of Iran’s com­plex pow­er­shar­ing gov­ern­ment cre­ated af­ter its 1979 Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion is the supreme leader, a po­si­tion now held by Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei. The supreme leader also serves as the coun­try’s com­man­der in chief over its mil­i­tary and the pow­er­ful Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, a para­mil­i­tary force in­volved in the war in Syria and the bat­tle against Isis ( Is­lamic State) mil­i­tants in Iraq that also has vast eco­nomic hold­ings across Iran. An 88- mem­ber elected cler­i­cal panel called the Assem­bly of Ex­perts ap­points the supreme leader and can re­move one as well, though that’s never hap­pened. Ira­nian pres­i­dents serve four- year terms. Iran’s pres­i­dent is sub­or­di­nate to the supreme leader but still pow­er­ful with con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence over both do­mes­tic pol­icy and for­eign af­fairs. In Rouhani’s case, his Ad­min­is­tra­tion ne­go­ti­ated the 2015 nu­clear deal with world pow­ers, which saw Iran limit its en­rich­ment of ura­nium in ex­change for the lift­ing of eco­nomic sanc­tions. That ac­cord was done with Khamenei’s bless­ing. An ini­tial field of more than 1600 hope­fuls reg­is­tered to run in the elec­tion. Iran’s Guardian Coun­cil, a 12- mem­ber panel half se­lected by the supreme leader and half nom­i­nated by the ju­di­ciary and ap­proved by Par­lia­ment, vet­ted the can­di­dates and nar­rowed the field to six, in­clud­ing Rouhani. The coun­cil has never al­lowed a woman to run for pres­i­dent and rou­tinely re­jects can­di­dates call­ing for dra­matic re­form, sti­fling change while en­sur­ing the con­tin­u­a­tion of Iran’s Shia Is­lamic gov­er­nance. Of the six can­di­dates ap­proved, two have since dropped out. Rouhani, a cleric, says his moder­ate Ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to con­tinue its work to im­ple­ment the nu­clear deal. In cam­paign stops and de­bates, he’s struck an in­creas­ingly more- force­ful line against the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard and hard­lin­ers for bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches and ar­bi­trary ar­rests, some­thing he largely avoided do­ing so far in his time in of­fice. Rouhani was the favourite of an­a­lysts as every Ira­nian pres­i­dent since Khamenei him­self took the pres­i­dency in 1981 has won re- elec­tion. How­ever, Iran’s slug­gish econ­omy and poverty re­main the top is­sues for av­er­age Ira­ni­ans who have yet to see the ben­e­fits of the atomic ac­cord. Hard­line cleric and for­mer judge Ebrahim Raisi ap­pears to be Rouhani’s main chal­lenger. Raisi is per­ceived to be close to Khamenei as the supreme leader put him in charge of As­tan Quds Razavi, a vast char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion en­com­pass­ing busi­nesses and en­dow­ments that over­sees the holy Shia shrine of Imam Reza in Mash­had. He also has re­ceived the en­dorse­ment of two ma­jor cler­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions that de­clined to en­dorse Rouhani in his 2013 cam­paign. Raisi has said he won’t seek to tear up the nu­clear deal. Raisi also has of­fered pop­ulist prom­ises, in­clud­ing monthly cash pay­ments to Iran’s poor. How­ever, his can­di­dacy has re­vived the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the 1988 mass ex­e­cu­tion of thou­sands in Iran. Raisi al­legedly served on a panel in­volved in sen­tenc­ing the pris­on­ers to death. Sur­pris­ingly, Is­lam. “Can­di­dates have seem­ingly con­cluded that Is­lamic ide­ol­ogy has lost its power as a driv­ing fac­tor among vot­ers and is there­fore not worth ad­dress­ing,” wrote Me­hdi Kha­laji, an an­a­lyst at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy who is a Shia the­olo­gian by train­ing. Those op­pos­ing Rouhani also all said they ac­cepted the nu­clear deal, once blasted by hard­lin­ers, mak­ing the ac­cord largely a non- is­sue. Any Ira­nian 18 or older can vote. To cast a bal­lot, they must go to one of 63,500 polling cen­tres set up around the coun­try in mosques, schools and other pub­lic build­ings. A voter must show their na­tional ID card and fill out a form. They dip one of their in­dex fin­gers in ink, mak­ing a print on the form, while of­fi­cials stamp their ID so they can’t vote twice. The voter then writes down the name and the nu­mer­i­cal code of the can­di­date they want to elect on the se­cret bal­lot and drop it into a bal­lot box. Ira­nian elec­tions are run by the coun­try’s In­te­rior Min­istry, which over­sees the na­tion’s po­lice forces. The Guardian Coun­cil must sign off any fi­nal elec­tion re­sults. Iran bars do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional ob­servers from the elec­tions, buck­ing a widely ac­cepted prin­ci­ple around the world that in­ter­na­tional watch­dogs warn can al­low for fraud. Al­le­ga­tions of voter fraud marred the coun­try’s 2009 elec­tion, which saw hard­line Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad se­cure a sec­ond term amid wide­spread un­rest. The Guardian Coun­cil re­jected Ah­madine­jad’s bid to run in this year’s elec­tion, likely to avoid any sim­i­lar conflict. Iran de­scribes it­self as an Is­lamic Repub­lic. It holds elec­tions and has elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives pass­ing laws and gov­ern­ing on be­half of its peo­ple. How­ever, the supreme leader has the fi­nal say on all state mat­ters and the Guardian Coun­cil must ap­prove all laws passed by the Par­lia­ment. Those who led Iran’s Green Move­ment af­ter Ah­madine­jad’s dis­puted 2009 re­elec­tion re­main un­der house ar­rest. Se­cu­rity forces an­swer­ing only to the supreme leader also rou­tinely ar­rest dual na­tion­als and for­eign­ers, us­ing them as pawns in in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Pic­ture / AP

A woman has never been al­lowed to run for pres­i­dent in Iran. They are al­lowed to vote, how­ever.

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