Election Calendar and Ongoing Uncertainties in Iran

Election Calendar and Ongoing Uncertainties in Iran
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Less than forty days remain for the presidential elections to be held on June 18 in Iran. According to the election calendar, candidate applications will start on May 11 and continue until Friday, May 15. The Guardian Council, responsible for supervising the elections, will complete the evaluation of the candidates’ applications on May 26 – 27. Then the results will be shared with the ministry of interior and the public. Thus, candidates will have the opportunity to make election propaganda for twenty-day (May 28–June 16). Twenty-four hours before the election, bans for election propaganda will commence (June 17).

The elections are crucial in this period, which is described as the second phase of the Revolution. Some critical national, regional, and international agendas await the new president, who is expected to rule the country for the following two terms. As a priority at the national level, immediate action plans should be put in place to alleviate the pressure of the US sanctions and the coronavirus epidemic. At the regional level, it seems that it is essential to reduce tensions with neighbors and normalize the relations. And at the international level, it is aimed to revive the Nuclear Deal, which is one of the main reasons for Iran’s troubles both at national and regional levels and to relieve the country from this excessive tension and relieve it at least partially. Although there is such a short time left for the elections, the candidates’ status for the president, who is the highest political representative office in the country after the Supreme Leader, is still uncertain.

Some actors with the highest potential for nomination were eliminated by electoral engineering, or their status remains uncertain until the deadline. Some names, such as Hassan Khomeini, abandoned their decision to participate in the elections due to the suggestions of the Supreme Leader Khamenei. On the other hand, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who crossed the border with his words in the leaked audio recording, said he would not be a candidate. Still, it is wondered whether he will be a candidate or not until the deadline of applications. It is already considered sure that the application of names like Mostafa Tajzadeh will be rejected because they attached to Islam and the constitution “not of deeds but words”. Moreover, Tajzadeh repeated his reformation request for the constitution in his letter that he sent to the Supreme Leader Khamenei. He reiterated his demand that the Supreme Leader be elected by an election and his term of office be limited to a specific period rather than an indefinite period. In addition, he should also be turned into an accountable authority.

The situation of actors such as the President of the Judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who are essential in the establishment system, is also uncertain. There is no doubt that the possibility of the candidacy and being elected of Raisi, one of the strongest candidates to the next Supreme Leader, will this possibility to the next level. A wide range of hardliners put pressure on being a candidate. On the other hand, some smaller groups suggest not being a candidate and continuing the process of combating corruption and reforming the judiciary, which he initiated as the head of the judiciary. Nevertheless, Raisi looks ahead to the news that comes from Khamenei. That is why while some hardliners claim that he will be a candidate for sure, he keeps silent about this issue. According to some unreliable allegations, some people aim to make him a candidate to lose the elections. Thereby his political career will reach an end in the judiciary. For this reason, they are putting pressure on Raisi to be a candidate. Ghalibaf called for other hardliner candidates to withdraw from the race and support him in case Raisi becomes a candidate. If Khamenei approves his candidacy, it is possible to say that Raisi, who has a nonpartisan personality, is the favorite of the election. Saeed Mohammad, another candidate for the nomination of hardliners, underlined that Khamenei has not yet approved Raisi in his press conference. Still, it seems that Raisi’s situation will become definite as May 11.

The establishment repeats the electoral engineering less than forty days before the elections. On the other hand, it is seen that potential candidates compete by different strategies. Tehran Municipal Council published a forty-two-page report. This report has once again brought the claims of Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf to the public agenda that he had a role in the major corruption during his presidency of Tehran Municipality (2005-2017). One of Ghalibaf’s aides, Isa Sharifi, was sentenced to prison for corruption. The publication of the report just two days before applying for candidacy reflected the discomfort of both reformers and hardliners, who reacted against Ghalibaf on this issue. After this incident, Ghalibaf’s application for candidacy was seriously prevented. It is also known that Khamenei did not give Ghalibaf the green light. Moreover, by becoming clear that Raisi would be a candidate, inevitably, Ghalibaf would not be a candidate.

In response to the report of the Tehran Municipal Council, Ghalibaf responded by bringing the voice recording of the speaker of the Municipal Council Mohsen Hashemi, which was leaked years ago, on the agenda. According to the recording, Mohsen Hashemi makes a statement to his wife that he was blackmailed because of temporary marriage. According to the allegations, the woman in question was one of the women used as “Parastoo” sent by Iranian intelligence to trap and blackmail prominent figures, especially politicians. In this context, everybody knows that there is a wave of cassettes in Iran. On this occasion, Mohsen Hashemi, who was among the reformists' candidates, suffered a severe loss of reputation by this character assassination. On the other hand, candidates such as Eshaq Jahangiri, Masoud Pezashkian, and Ali Larijani still have not made an absolute statement and shared their decisions on this issue with the public. The rest are Hossein Dehghan, Saeed Mohammad, Rostam Ghasemi, Mohsen Rezai, and Ali Motahari, who announced that they would make an application for nomination.

The Guardian Council’s Electoral Engineering

Following Khamenei’s statements on May 2, The Guardian Council’s announcement of the conditions sought for candidates in the elections affected the general atmosphere of the elections. The Guardian Council shared the conditions sought in presidential candidates with the public on May 5. The statement sets out criteria such as age limit, education level, and managerial experience. According to this, candidates must be between the ages of 40 – 75, having a master’s degree or equivalent, having served as a senior state administrator for at least four years (ministry, governorship, mayor in municipalities with a population over two million, at least major general or major general responsibilities) and must have a clean criminal record.

This move of the Guardian Council was interpreted as a violation of the constitution, especially by reformists, and caused reactions. Those who reacted claimed that the Guardian Council used the legislative power in place of the parliament. However, the Guardian Council underlined that these criteria are explained within the scope of article 110 of the constitution and referring to the fifth paragraph of article 10 of the declaration of the Supreme Leader announced in 2017 regarding the elections. The statement of the Guardian Council was supported by 220 deputies from the parliament, three-quarters of which is under the control of hardliners. On the other hand, Hassan Rouhani, in the instruction sent to the Minister of Interior, asked that the application be taken according to the old criteria, not the new measures determined by the Guardian Council. In response, the Minister of Internal Affairs stated that he would not abide by this instruction and receive applications based on the council’s criteria.

As a result, there is an interesting election process in every sense. The first stage of this process will end on May 15, and it will be clear who would be a candidate. The second stage is evaluating the applications and the announcement of the results by the Ministry of Interior. Thus, the competition process of Iran’s thirteenth term presidential candidates will begin. When considering the process up to now, it is possible to say that many stages have been completed for the election of a revolutionary, young, and new blood president aimed by the establishment. In the case of Zarif’s candidacy, it is most likely that the main competition will be Raisi and Zarif. If Zarif is not a candidate and if Ali Larijani becomes a candidate, there is a high probability that the competition will be between Raisi and Larijani. If Zarif and Larijani are not candidates, it is predicted that different candidates from both sides will come to the fore, and Raisi’s job will be easier. On the other hand, it is also known that an election with low participation will be in Raisi’s favor.