The Jerusalem Post
Iranian election: Changing faces, not politics
The Iranian presidential election scheduled for June 18 are witnessing an absence of actual competition due to the tightening of the screws on the most competitive candidates, as the Guardian Council excluded three of the most prominent candidates, namely former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Speaker of the Shura Council Ali Larijani and the candidate from the so-called reformist current, Eshaq Jahangiri, in addition to eight other candidates who are supposed to represent the Iranian reformist front. This resulted in the domination by the most hard-line movement of a list of seven candidates, to the extent that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized what he described as the mass exclusion of a number of candidates, and called in a letter he sent to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to intervene to provide “greater competition” in the election, which was rejected by the latter, who later returned and admitted that some candidates had been wronged, calling for errors to be corrected, a statement apparently aimed at containing anger because the final list of candidates had the approval of the leader before it was announced, which negates the idea of adopting it without getting a green light from Khamenei.
In fact, the competition has become de facto limited to seven candidates, most notably Ebrahim Raisi, one of the most prominent close associates of the Iranian leader, Khamenei. In the previous presidential election in 2017, in which Rouhani won a second presidential term, he obtained 38% of the vote, and Raisi is considered the candidate of this stage for several reasons, the most important of which is that he maintains strong relations with the two wings of power in the mullahs’ regime: the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in addition to being the preferred candidate of the regime’s most hard-line wing.
Raisi has long been known as the death penalty judge, as he was one of the judges who formed the so-called death commission, which issued death sentences against many opposition elements despite the expiry of their sentences in prisons, and he has always been the subject of the trust of the current guide so that most expectations were indicating that he is the potential successor for Khamenei, and that his candidacy for the presidency is a qualification for him to assume the most important and sensitive position at the top of the mullahs’ regime. I believe that insisting on creating for him an atmosphere of winning in this open way aims to avoid his loss in the elections in any way, because the loss greatly weakens the chances of appointing him a supreme leader for his loss of the popular confidence in two successive elections, which makes it difficult to choose him as Khamenei’s successor in the event of the latter’s death.
Saeed Jalili, the former secretary-general of Iran’s National Security Council and a former negotiator on the nuclear program, is considered the closest conservative rival to Raisi’s for victory in the upcoming elections, as he received four million votes in the 2013 election and came third then.
Despite the absence of competition, these elections have international follow-up given that there is an international concern that they may have a possible negative impact on Iran’s position in the ongoing negotiations in Vienna regarding a return to the nuclear agreement signed in 2015, as Western circles fear that the hard-liners will fully control the circles of power in the mullahs’ regime, which makes negotiating with them more difficult than what is currently happening.
In fact, setting the stage of Iranian politics for the victory of a hard-line candidate means that the next stage is the most difficult for negotiating with the US, despite the fact that the supreme leader has the final say in Iranian foreign policy, and that all steps can only be achieved with a direct green light from him personally. A hard-liner in the presidency means the completion of the circle of extremism in the Iranian authority institutions, after the hard-liners took control of the Shura Council and the judiciary, which may mean changes in tactics and not in strategies. The current negotiating team in Vienna receives instructions apparently from Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, but it actually implements the supreme leader’s instructions and adheres to his orders and the red lines he draws for the iranian president and foreign ministry. Therefore, the presence of a negotiator from the most extremist current in Iran will cause concern in the West and may push the US to make more concessions, which means that the change of faces is in fact part of the role-distribution game that Khamenei is good at employing during the ebb
and flow of relations with the US.
The rise of the hard-line movement to the ladder of the Iranian presidency does not necessarily reflect the strength of the mullahs’ regime, but rather its weakness and the decline of its grip on power. Khamenei fears the aggravating impact of US sanctions, so he wants to change negotiating tactics and show a more tough face, perhaps this contributes
to speeding up the exit from the sanctions grip, but he is also anticipating the failure to reach a settlement in this regard, and he believes that the presence of a president close to the IRGC and the Wali of al-Faqih institution supports the regime’s cohesion and strength in the face of any sweeping popular anger.