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Commentary on the Iranian Presidential Elections: Regardless of the new President’s name, Iran’s elections confirm the values of the revolution

June 19, 2021
Who’s threatening whom?

Although I do make a few initial points the commentary below is not mine but that of E. J. Magnier, a secular Lebanese journalist and political commentator of some repute who defends the Iranian presidential elections, not just the one taking place at this moment, but the whole history of these elections since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

I decided to post this after reading the NY Times headline this morning “Iran’s ultraconservative judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, is set to become president after an election that many voters saw as rigged in his favor.” The article goes on to slam the election process in Iran in no uncertain terms – “poor voter turnout”, “rigged” etc. Just a part of the ideological warfare against Iran that has been going on for the past 42 years. Nothing less. Many more pieces of this ilk will appear in the echo chamber otherwise known as the Western media.

My own take on these elections briefly – Kazerooni and I will discuss them in detail on our KGNU program on June 29 – can be summed up as the following:

a. It was more democratic than presidential elections here in the United States and by a long shot.

b. Even with the low voter turnout there, that turnout is higher than in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. It is not the important point that the NY Times claims.

c. This election is essentially a response to the U.S. refusal via the JCPOA to remove sanctions against Iran as agreed to in the 2015 completion of that agreement. The Iran Nuclear Deal is essentially – and very unfortunately – dead in the water.

d Since Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran Nuclear Deal), essentially destroying in one fell swoop any possibility of the United States from normalizing relations with Iran, it has been predicted on many quarters – left, right and center – that Iran’s flirtation with Washington represented by Rouhani and Zarif is over and that the country would move more definitely into strengthening its ties with Russia and China. If the Iranian populace is moving towards a more hard line position towards Washington, the primary responsibility for the failure of this reconciliation lies with Washington.

e. The NY Times piece is the opening salvo for a yet even more frenzied U.S. attitude towards Iran. It corresponds to American hypocrisy on foreign elections – be they in Bolivia, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Palestine (Hamas in Gaza), and the like. Washington pontificates about how “democracy’ is about electoral politics – unless Washington doesn’t agree with the results and then it charges – without evidence – that the elctions are fixed, rigged etc. Usual imperial approach – ie, “you” (other countries) can and should have elections as long as Washington approves of the results.

Anyway, E. J. Magnier’s piece below gives a much more honest picture of Iranian elections. It was written a few days prior to the election itself

Regardless of the new President’s name, Iran’s elections confirm the values of the revolution

June 17, 2021

Iran has a date with the presidential elections this Friday, the 18th of June, where seven candidates are expected to compete for the thirteenth session. According to the constitution, the Guardian Council (responsible for approving the names, programs and biography of candidates), as in every presidential election, has excluded several, which has caused domestic criticism. These elections appear different from the previous ones, as the level of participation is expected to fall to around 50 per cent. Suppose the number of voters is not high. In that case, the turnout will be the lowest in the country’s electoral history, given that the participation rate in the last presidential elections was 73 per cent. However, the percentage in any presidential elections worldwide has never been a reliable indication, particularly in Iran, where society has been politically polarised since 1980. Moreover, there is only one major hardliner candidate and one reformist for both camps to vote for and choose as the next President of Iran.

In the West, there has always been a significant focus on all events taking place in Iran. Some “experts”(naively) identified the Guardian Council’s move under the label of the control of the “deep state”. Others believed that “the regime wants Ibrahim Raisi” for the next Presidency because he is supposed to be preparing for a future higher position as the successor to the Wali al-Faqih Sayyid. Ali Khamenei.

However, there is little doubt the western world of experts on Iran has limited knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes in Iran since the revolution’s victory. The most straightforward issue is that the constitution always governs the strategic decision taken by the Iranian officials. The future President and his government have specific functions by law since the position of the prime minister was abolished during the era of Mir Hossein Mousavi and when the constitution was amended before the departure of Imam Khomeini. Consequently, the nuclear negotiation with the US has nothing to do with the Iranian election and the new president’s identity.

Just after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the revolution’s victory, Imam Khomeini called for a referendum where the absolute number of voters called for the “Islamic Republic”. The first elected President was Abolhassan Bani Sadr in 1980. At that time, Imam Khomeini did not support Bani Sadr, but neither revealed his political view to affect the election result.

“I have nothing to do with who will become President of the republic, and this is none of my business. Personally, I have one vote, and I will give it to whomsoever of the candidates I want, and you, the people of Iran, are in my same position,” said Imam Khomeini.

In the 1985 presidential elections, Sayyed Ali Khamenei became President following the assassination of President Mohammad Ali Rajaei:”Imam Khomeini ordered me that the matter (of my candidateship) is necessary and that it is my Islamic duty to run for the presidential elections. However, I did not disclose Imam Khomeini’s will so that my words would not affect the course of the elections (People would have voted to whomever Imam Khomeini would have chosen)”, Khamenei said to a crowd gathering in the presence of Imam Khomeini. This statement indicates how the Wali al-Fakih, who likes or dislikes a Presidential candidate, keeps his opinion to himself and does not interfere or try to influence the elections in favour or against a candidate elected by the people.

The world following the Iranian elections watched the television debates that took place between the presidential candidates who presented their electoral programs and their view of dealing with the economy, internal politics, the role of women, the status of the local currency, reliance on industry, agriculture, local production, and people’s concerns and demands. None of the candidates shared his policy concerning the nuclear file and foreign relations because the Wali al-Faqih has drawn up the lines and defined them for the current and future government to follow. This policy consists of the following: all US sanctions should be lifted, not suspended, or Iran will abandon the nuclear deal revoked by Donald Trump in 2018.

During the first term of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who became prominent in his joining the hard-line camp, Khamenei permitted him to negotiate with the US on the nuclear file to lift the sanctions. The US-Iran negotiations were being pursued by following President Sheikh Hassan Rouhani, who failed to reach a final deal with President Joe Biden due to the US’s intransigence. Washington is trying to maintain many sanctions imposed by Trump, considered unrelated to the nuclear file. Iran has a different opinion and assumes there is so far no difference between Trump and Biden. Trump wanted to negotiate, but Iran rejected his offer but accepted the indirect negotiation with Biden’s administration that is unwilling to lift all sanctions imposed by the previous administration.

Hence, the identity of the next Iranian President has nothing to do with the US-Iran relationship or nuclear deal.The US will continue looking at the “Islamic Republic” as an enemy even if a nuclear agreement is signed because Tehran will always reject the US hegemony and will work for the total withdrawal of the US forces from the Middle East and part of West Asia.

Concerning Iranian domestic policy, it is not new that there are reformists and hardliners in Iran. Iranian politicians have been divided since the early days of the revolution between the right-wing and left-wing “Republican Party”. The conflict between the two poles is as old as the revolution. Indeed, in 1987, Imam Khomeini was exasperated by this division of the two warring parties and criticised both sides when he said: “Both sides are believers in the region of the prophet Mohammad and are loyal to the revolution, but with different opinions. Those who, without exception, call the clergy and scholars believers in ‘American Islam’ are heading on a dangerous path that will end in breaking the thorns of the original Islam. Some people have become more revolutionary than true revolutionaries.”

The political battle between polarised political parties is part of the Iranian democracy and will always be present in the domestic arena. In the ’80s, the Iranian left-wing outperformed the right-wing conservatives in the first election of Mir Hossein Mousavi as prime minister and during the era of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was elected President of the Republic (1989-1993). And the first reformist President, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami, took office as President twice (1997-2005) and is considered the “guru” of the reformist camp with sheikh Mehdi Karroubi, one of Imam Khomeini’s students, one of his inner circle and a former Speaker.

But hardline Presidents can change their policy: it happened with Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad in their respective second terms. Also, President Rouhani (2013-2021), who was close to Sayyed Ali Khamenei, followed a policy dictated by his pragmatic Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Zarif believed in the promises of the West and even tried to drag the country towards a foreign policy he wanted to establish regardless of the decision of the Wali al-Fakih- when Zarif said ‘every positive move by the US will be met with a similar Iranian action he was told off by Sayyed Khamenei who determined that a Foreign Minister follows the guidelines of the decision-makers and doesn’t have his own policy to implement.

As a result of the overconfidence of Minister Zarif in the west, Trump destroyed the nuclear deal, and Europe did nothing to compensate. Moreover, President Joe Biden has not lifted the sanctions after more than 148 days since his election. This is precisely what Sayyed Khamenei predicted (never trust the US and European leaders) to Rouhani’s government in 2013 but allowed Zarif to negotiate regardless.

As for the Guardian Council, which decides who will run in the elections or not among the applicants for candidacy, it has the authority to reveal the reasons behind excluding candidates to the Presidency or reply to the objectors who have been rejected. The most prominent candidate in the current race, Ali Larijani – the former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the former parliament speaker (2008-2020 and the current adviser to Sayyed Ali Khamenei – was removed by the council. Sayyed Khamenei himself intervened overtly, asking for justice for Larijani without quoting him by his name. However, Sayyed Khamenei’s pledge reached only deaf ears among the Guardian Council because he opined his view without dictating his will or using his authority.

As for Ahmadinejad’s rejection as a candidate, that was expected, especially after the case of First Vice President Esfandiar Rahimi Mashaei and his statements about seeking the rapprochement with Israel, and Ahmadinejad’s refusal to dismiss him from office notwithstanding Sayyed Ali Khamenei’s letter in which he requested the President to dismiss Mashaei.

As for saying that the hardliners did not want to risk Larijani’s coming and losing Raeisi because of the popularity of the two parties, it is a deductive narrative because the contest of the most hard-line candidates disperses the votes among them to give greater chances for the centrist among them to rise. One of the hardliners’ candidates (Alireza Zakani) withdrew from the race and threw support to Raeisi. Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh, a reformist, left the race, leaving more space for the only moderate, Aboldnaser Hemmati, to win if he gathers enough support. Having only one moderate for the Presidency race presents an opportunity for voters to show their weight, especially when the word is indeed spreading among reformists to rally behind Hemmati.

During the electoral campaign, tens of thousands of people gathered at the largest electoral rally for current candidates in Iran’s Ahvaz region to support Raeisi, as proof of his popularity. Therefore, he is considered one of the most likely candidates to implement his promised economic program. The rise in the popularity of the hardliners is caused by the retreat of the reformists’ bases, due to their previous mistakes in monetary policy, without necessarily meaning that their role is over. On the contrary, they will try to return in the future after regrouping if they fail to reach the Presidency.

One party winning or losing over another is a hit-and-run political process as long as people participate in the elections and believe in the Islamic system. Winning the Presidency in one issue and succeeding to pull out the country to economic prosperity regardless of the international sanctions is another. For example, Muhammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, a hardliner, was elected as Prime Minister in the 1980s. Mir Hossein Mousavi took over in 1981, a leftist and reformist. The hard-line Ali Akbar Nategh Nuri failed in front of Rafsanjani, who obtained the consensus of the right and the left political wings in the 1989 elections. Throughout the forty years of the “Islamic Revolution”, many reformists and hardliners took power. However, the US and harsh international sanctions always aimed to cripple Iran’s economy regardless of the presence of a reformist or a hardliner in power.

The new President will face the challenge of the economy, security, regional alliances, restoration of the relationship with Saudi Arabia and the countries of the region, and positioning with China and Russia to eliminate unilateral US control in the world, and most importantly, the purchasing power of the local currency and restoring life to the economy.

The presidential elections will not affect the nuclear file, which, the more negotiations fail, the higher will be the progress in nuclear science and technology. Instead, it will affect the economy as a whole if America agrees to lift all sanctions, which is now unlikely and unexpected. Consequently, Iran is on a date with a democratic election that confirms the principles and values of the “Islamic Revolution”, regardless of the results and regardless of the next president’s name.

It is the most important democratic event, and unique for Iran, where people vote for their President in a region that doesn’t know what free election is. It is also one of the most-watched around the world because Iran has become a regional power defying the most powerful country globally, notwithstanding the harshest sanctions ever imposed on a state. For forty years the west kept predicting that the “Islamic Republic” was coming to its end, indicating the wishful thinking behind this narrative and the frustration of Iran’s policy to stay out of the US hegemony and its orbit of influence and control.

Moreover, Iran is expected to remain under the harshest attack in the future, whichever direction the nuclear deal takes. If the US signs the agreement, it will do everything to try and curb Iran’s allies and its missile program. If the nuclear deal with the US fails to reach a happy ending for both sides, Iran will go full atomic and be under further sanctions and attack. Saying that the path was cleared for Raeisi is too pretentious because, if selected, he has enormous domestic and foreign challenges to face. And if Raeisi fails, the reformists may collect the benefit in the next presidential elections. If Ibrahim Raeisi succeeds in taking Iran to another more prosperous economic level, the Iranian population, reformist or hardliner supporters, will be the biggest winners.

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