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Iran … Framing the Presidential Election

Iran … Framing the Presidential Election

Friday, 21 May, 2021 - 10:45

All eyes are on the Iranian Guardian Council, which decides which candidates are qualified to continue the presidential race. Its 12 members will draw the contours of the next Iranian president, leaving the electorate with a pseudo-superficial right to vote only after the Council had determined their choices and turned the race into a contest between two like-minded candidates who differ in form but are the same in substance.


It is worth noting that six of the 12 Council members are clerics chosen by the supreme leader, and the six others are jurists selected by the parliament upon the recommendation of the head of the judiciary, who is also appointed by the supreme leader.


The Council’s “standards” will most probably reduce the number of candidates from 592 to a handful, as it had done during the presidential elections of 2017, when it reduced the number of candidates from 1,630 to six. This process began swiftly after the window for submitting candidacies closed.


Last Sunday, Guardian Council Spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhdaei announced that “a maximum of 40 candidates may be approved for the presidential elections because the others don’t have the requisites, papers and requirements to run.” This means that the course the elections will take is clear, with the competition limited to candidates representing a single camp’s power-centers, with a few others also allowed to take part for the sake of appearances.


The Guardian Council will likely prevent prominent Iranian politicians from staying in the race. This worries former President Ahmadinejad’s camp, the narrative of which is now deviating from that of the conservatives, becoming a populist movement that combines nationalism and ideology. This apprehension compelled Ahmadinejad’s advisor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei to tweet: “Deeming a president who was elected twice with the loudest voices of the people ineligible, without providing any reasons, is an insult to the people’s intelligence and disrespects the fortitude of their ability to distinguish between right and wrong! This blatantly contradicts the spirit of the revolution, the spirit of the republic, and the spirit of Islam.”


Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Council’s primary role in this election is to determine its results early on. Thus, its job is to contain the competition between candidates from a military background and civilians (Raisi, Larijani and Jahangiri). The decisions on who is excluded and who is allowed to run will reveal the vision of the regime’s institution, which runs the Guardian Council, for the future of the executive.


The regime’s deep state, the tight inner circle in the “supreme leader’s house” or the “Vilayet-e Faqih institution,” has not yet decided its vision and choices for the future. It has given no indications regarding which candidates it prefers over others. Despite the IRGC’s surge and the talk of a militarization of the presidential election, the supreme leader’s position on the matter remains unclear.


Matters were obscured further by the candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi, the figure closest to the “Vilayet-e Faqih institution,” and the chances of him being the strongest competitor increasing. We should also keep the candidacy of former parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani in mind, as it opens the door speculation that a “moderate conservative” is still an option. That choice could be in tune with developments in the region. Meanwhile, current Vice President Jahangiri’s candidacy is bait intended to increase voter turnout by compelling moderates and reformists to cast their ballots.


These elections are marked by a plurality of political orientations, and it is thus up to the Guardian Council to turn it into a dichotomy, as had been the case before, with the electorate choosing between a reformist and a conservative. However, there is a real possibility that it could be a three- or four-way battle this time around, either between a conservative, a moderate and a reformist, or moderate, a conservative, a reformist and a military figure.


To conclude, the candidates and the electorate are holding their breath as they await the final list of candidates that will pave the way to determining the Iranian regime’s future orientation and its relationship with the inside and the outside, which all ties into the significant transformations in the region that complicate the Guardian Council’s task.


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