Iran’s Supreme Leader Tightens Grip After Disqualifying Two Top Presidential Candidates

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Ebrahim Noroozi / AP

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, registered his candidacy for the presidential election, at the election headquarters of the interior ministry in Tehran, on May 11, 2013.

For the cleric who runs Iran, there’s no such thing as a pleasant surprise, especially on election day. Ayatullah Ali Khamenei was not pleased when a librarian named Mohammed Khatami was swept into the President’s office in 1997, leading a wave of reformists who challenged the status quo in which Khamenei, as the unelected Supreme Leader of the Revolution, was most heavily invested. In every election cycle since, the self-appointed portion of Iran’s government has done all it can to winnow the choices placed before Iranian voters. On Tuesday, that system tightened the screen once more, disqualifying the only two prominent candidates who dared to differ with the Supreme Leader. When Iranians go to the polls on June 14 to choose a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ballot will run from Khamenei’s former policy director to the man who married his daughter.

“We see in retrospect, the system was absolutely terrified at the possibility of a Gorbachev phenomenon,” says Ray Takeyh, who follows Iran at the Council on Foreign Affairs in Washington. He refers to Mikhail Gorbachev, who engineered the demise of the Soviet empire that its politburo selected him to protect. “Because of Khatami. They don’t want a repeat of that performance.”

Consider the two most prominent candidates barred by the unelected Guardian Council, “the last two guys who weren’t going to completely tow the line,” says Takeyh. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 78, has served twice as Iran’s President already, in 1989 and 1993. He was an architect of the Islamic revolution that brought Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini to power 34 years ago. At one point, when Khomeini thought he was about to be killed, he wrote a will ordering payment of his debts — Rafsanjani was owed the most.

Khamenei owes him a good deal more. After Khomeini’s 1989 death, the assembly of clerics charged with naming a successor was deadlocked until Rafsanjani announced he’d heard Khomeini say Khamenei would be good in the job. But not even that bit of history was enough to undo Rafsanjani’s association with the reform movement that later rose in reaction to the harshness of the mullah’s rule. “It’s a little bit like Kramer vs. Kramer now in the Iranian regime,” says Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst in Tel Aviv. “The regime is turning against itself.”

Less surprising was the disqualification of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the man Ahmadinejad named as his Vice President until Khamenei ordered him out of the job in 2009. Mashaei was dubbed part of a “deviant current” after suggesting that perhaps clerics are not necessary to mediate between ordinary people and God. He’s also spoken encouragingly of Iranian nationalism, a potent residual force in a nation that predates the arrival of Islam by more than a millennium. “And everybody knows the Leader can’t stand him,” says Takeyh.

His association with Ahmadinejad underscores the perils of elections. Loathed by the West for denying the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad looked like the savior of the Iranian establishment when he burst onto the national stage in the 2005 presidential election. In Iran’s elitist politics, his populist appeal was real and profound and Khamenei embraced him “almost as the son he never had,” says Javedanfar. The Leader mobilized the establishment to assure the young ideologue was re-elected in 2009, allowing the appearance of vote fraud so massive, it brought hundreds of thousands of Iranians into the streets and left scores dead. But in the second term, Ahmadinejad challenged Khamenei’s authority repeatedly — and more directly than Khatami ever dared. The mild-mannered reformist was so averse to confrontation that in the moment of one election showdown he was admitted to the hospital, complaining of back spasms.

“They’re trying to do the election this time completely different from 2009,” says Takeyh. Security has been stepped up, and the Internet slowed down. “What they want to do is get through this electoral cycle with maximum degree of public apathy.” The field of candidates should help there. The Leader’s reported favorite is Saeed Jalili, who before heading the negotiating team on Iran’s nuclear program ran Khamenei’s office. Also approved to run was former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, and former parliament speaker and Khamenei son-in-law Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel.

It is a not a diverse field. As the screening of candidates has grown more exacting, the base of Iranian politics has narrowed to a thinness that analysts describe as perilous. The press, which a decade ago was still lively, now reflects a political spectrum running from A to B: “Principlists” square off against “traditional conservatives.” Everyone else is on the outside peering in. “The smaller the circle becomes, the worse the legitimacy,” says Javedanfar, who lectures on Iran at the Interdisciplinary Center north of Tel Aviv. “There’s also the fact that those who are in are not the sharpest tools in the box.”

On the other hand, it may not be a great time for the mullahs to court unnecessary risks. Iran’s economy is crippled by international sanctions aimed at diminishing its nuclear program, and Tehran’s only military ally — Syrian strongman Bashar Assad — is fighting for his life, along with that of the Hizballah militia that Iran sponsors in adjacent Lebanon.

“They may actually succeed in stage-managing this thing. They threw out the two candidates who potentially could have caused trouble,” says Takeyh. “But you never know. Who’d have predicted in 2009 that a has-been like Mir-Hossein Mousavi would have inspired massive street protests? In 2009 they invited 400 foreign journalists into the country to watch. Did they expect things to go wrong?”

9 comments
JeremiahDiehl
JeremiahDiehl

I'm certain that whoever wins the election will be involved in the Gog and Magog war of Ezekiel 38-39.
www.JeremiahDiehl.com

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

Could Iran be the future seat of power of the anti-christ, and the false prophet of Revelations?.......

......Revelation 16:13...........And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.......

......Revelation 13:11........[ The Beast from the Earth ] Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.........

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

Could Iran be the future seat of power of the anti-christ, and the false prophet of Revelations?.......

......Revelation 16:13...........And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.......

.....Revelation 13:11....... Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.........

Daniel 11:23-24........

23 And after the league is made with him he shall act deceitfully, for he shall come up and become strong with a small number of people. 24 He shall enter peaceably, even into the richest places of the province; and he shall do what his fathers have not done, nor his forefathers: he shall disperse among them the plunder, spoil, and riches; and he shall devise his plans against the strongholds, but only for a time.

antonmarq
antonmarq

The power of ignorance, and how its also being added to the American scene. The GOP also want a dictatorship state, one ruled by Corporations. A corporate overload that will dictate all our wants and needs. Of course, the corporations will have a government figurehead, and political mouth piece that will drive fear, insecurity, and controls to keep Americans permanently off balance. Just watch any large business today, don't pay your gas or electric bill, watch how they will instantly throw you into the dark ages, and would care less about it. Same for any other large and greedily controlled product, especially when some sought of controlled energy is behind its support.

Why should we care what goes on in Iran, Iraq or anywhere else, because it lays the groundwork for what those in power are capable of doing, which must never happen here.

EarthView
EarthView

Curious that Time has to rely on its man in Jerusalem to write about Iran. The claim that the candidates are all Khamenei pals is false. Also, none of them is married to Khamenei's daughter. One candidate, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel'daughter is married to Khamenei's son. 

All the eight approved candidates are highly qualified. At least one or two can even be called reformists. Iran's presidential election process is much more sane and democratic than the American way of choosing a president, where you need billions to run and you don't even have to get the most votes to win.

DavidHall
DavidHall

>> a has-ben like Mir-Hossein Mousavi

A has-"ben" -- really? Gawd. Ben nice knowing ya.

SanMann
SanMann

@EarthView ,

You're defending Khamenei's vice-like grip over the Iranian political system, and his ability to bar candidates? You should change your name to KhameneiView.