Photo: People watching first Iranian 2017 presidential debate in Tehran on 28 April 2017. Credit: Wikiedia Commons. - Photo: 2017

Suspense Abounds in Iran’s Presidential Elections

By Mortezagholi Raissi

BONN | TEHRAN (IDN) – In the run-up to the Presidential elections in Iran on May 19, all but six of the 1600 women and men who were registered as presidential candidates for the twelfth poll since the ‘Islamic Revolution’ that resulted in the toppling of the monarchy on April 1, 1979, have been axed.

The spokesman of the powerful ‘Guardian Council’ announced in an interview with the Iranian television on April 26 that only the six approved candidates fulfilled the requirements for standing for elections to the office of the President.

The Guardian Council consists of 12 persons, 6 of whom are scholars appointed directly by Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, and the other 6 are jurists, who need to be confirmed by the Parliament. However, the chairman of the Council is a confidant of the leader. But all candidates are requited to be local to the regime.

In principle, the Guardian Council has unlimited rights and powers, and monitors compliance with the Islamic rules and keeps an eye on the representatives of the state. These control functions are also exercised over parliamentary deputies, which means that the people’s representatives may not campaign for elections until the Council has approved their applications. Also, the legislative measures and resolutions adopted by the Parliament can be blocked by appeals to the Guardians.

A brief look at the powers of these organs shows that in Iran nothing works politically without a direct or indirect influence of the Guardian Council.

From the long list of candidates, six persons who have been approved as qualified to campaign as presidential candidates are Hassan Rouhani, President since 2013, Ibrahim Raissi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the Lord Mayor of Tehran.

Many observers of Iranian politics believe that Rouhani, who has been Iranian President for four years, will win the election. He will then start his second four-year term as president after which he will not be allowed to contest for the office. There are, however, loud voices, which regard the surprising candidacy of Ebrahim Raissi as critical for the presidency.

Raissi is one of the most influential clerics, also appointed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei as administrator of Imam Reza shrine, the eighth Imam of the Shiites who was buried in the city of Mashhad. Imam Reza’s monument attracts millions of believers from several countries every year.

The scientific and religious recognition that Imam Reza has in the Islamic world, and through the centuries-long endeavour of Iran to give the shrine increasing importance, has made the city of Mashhad famous as a place of religious pilgrimage and a tourist centre. Better infrastructure, as well as thousands of years of Iranian history – before and after Islam – also contributed to the city’s fame.

The sights of the city of Mashhad and the attraction of the tomb of the eighth Imam of the Shiites made it one of the richest foundations in the world, which, according to American observers, is free of any controls for political and ideological purposes.

Raissi had previously also had important posts in the judiciary, among others as a general public prosecutor. But what could prove detrimental to his electoral chances – and that became an open secret recently – is his association with court proceedings against regime opponents, making thousands of judgments leading to the execution of young people. This was done by order of Ayatollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader of Iran in the 1980s.

Nevertheless, some experts are of the firm view that Raissi, the head of the highly influential Imam Reza shrine, is actually the future leader. His approval as a candidate, they say, is intended to enable him y gain experience in the government and as a president. Until now, he has worked in the judiciary for a long period.

The Ayatollah Khamenei (78), the current Supreme Leader, is severely ill and suffers prostate cancer, according to many press reports. The doctors give him no high hopes. Given this situation, Khamenei is understood to have decided to pave the way for Raissi, with whom he has had a trusted relationship. Raissi is 57 and is in a position to fulfil the Supreme Leader’s wish to serve as President or his successor.

Over the last four years, under the leadership of Rouhani, landmark 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries based on the guidelines of Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Besides, the advantage of opening up to the West, if only gradually, and to the western culture, despite various restrictions, is visible. The economy is much better off than before the nuclear treaty.

While there is much more that speaks for Rouhan and makes him feel optimistic that he will win the elections for the second term. It remains, puzzling why Raissi has been put up as a candidate.

It is striking in this election that the former Prime Minister Ahmadinejad had announced his candidature, but he was excluded in the selection of the official candidates of the Guardian Council.

In fact, in the May 19 elections, two fronts are pitted against each other: the reformists with Rouhani and the conservatives with Raissi at the top. Experts do not rule out that the elections might go into the second round. [IDN-InDepthNews – 5 May 2017]

Photo: People watching first Iranian 2017 presidential debate in Tehran on 28 April 2017. Credit: Wikiedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate – 

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