By Omid Irani
With the Iranian presidential elections visible on the near horizon, the people of Iran and the wider international community watch eagerly to see who will assume the ranks as the next ostensible leader of Iran. Outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reluctant to ride off into the sunset graciously and quietly, creating an interesting backdrop within the larger canvas of Iranian presidential politics. Wasting no time, the candidates vetted and cleared to run along with those individuals barred from running have already exchanged sharp words about the differing ideologies, policies, and tactics that will undeniably saturate the larger discourse covering Iranian politics. Trying to parse through the various oscillating campaign promises and rhetorical talking points of the different candidates can be truly a tall task to undertake for participating voters in Iran. Naturally, the prospect of returning to the ballot boxes for such a high-profile election for the first time since the notorious 2009 elections is still fresh on every Iranian's mind and will surely prove too daunting for some as the flashbacks of the bloody aftermath have already prompted some individuals to boycott this year's election.
Iranian elections have become synonymous with deception and falsification largely in part by the widespread domestic and international allegations of fraud which gave incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory over his main political adversary, Mir Hossein Moussavi, back in 2009. As Ahmadinejad's term winds to a close four years later, it is increasingly apparent that the social and physical wounds of four years ago have not yet completely healed, with some arguing that they never will fully recuperate to harmonious working order any time soon. Yet, while we rapidly approach the highly anticipated June 14 election date, it is imperative to advocate for calm and order to prevail in the aftermath and publication of the electoral results. A replay of the 2009 chaos would prove to be not only counterproductive for Iran, but also destructive for national societal norms as well. The manifestation of another large-scale uprising, in such a short timeframe, although not anticipated this time around, has the potential of plunging all of Iranian customary tranquility into absolute irrelevancy.
Iran's conservative-filled Guardian Council, which is in charge of clearing presidential candidates to run, cleared eight high-ranking and prominent contenders to campaign for the position of President. Notably absent from this octet are Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and Hashemi Rafsanjani, two key individuals with significant public support who wished to lead Iran through its many domestic and international tribulations. Mashaei and Rafsanjani were both deemed unfit to stand for election by the powerful Guardian Council, mainly in part because Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sought to avoid a replay of 2009's post-election chaos and violence if one, or both, of them lost.
Mashaei, a close friend, political ally, and Chief of Staff to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been widely regarded as an individual who is too far outside of the tolerated scope of Iran's clerical establishment to lead the Islamic Republic. Mashaei's advocacy for secularism, religious modernization and his apparent friendliness toward the United States and Israel earned him a disqualification verdict as his liberal viewpoints did not seem to bode well with the Guardian Council which has deep-rooted loyal ties with Khamenei. On the other hand, Rafsanjani, a stalwart of the 1979 Islamic Revolution has drastically fallen out of favor with Iran's ruling hardliners, particularly with Khamenei himself, principally, in part, because of his pragmatic views calling for more favorable business ties with Western interests and his public opposition to Ahmadinejad's reelection in 2009. Having these two controversial, yet popular, politicians barred from candidacy all but ensures a smooth outcome for the establishment as a whole on the morning of June 15th, assuming no other supplementary and unforeseen variables of any sort are thrown into the electoral or social equation.
With the field of candidates now set, it appears as though Iran's current chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, a stringent principlist in ideology, is establishing himself as the clear frontrunner for the rank of Presidency when the votes are finally tallied and announced. Jalili, a relatively young protege emanating much of Khamenei's staunchly conservative anti-West views, has risen to the top of Iran's political picking tree with his pedigree of nationalistic undertakings. A Revolutionary Guard fighter during the bloody eight-year war with Iraq, Jalili brandishes a prosthetic leg as a testament for/of/to his service for the Iranian cause. During his tenure as Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Jalili has been seasoned with invaluable tactics and strategies while negotiating Iran's contested nuclear issue on the international level which would surely prove fruitful should Iranians entrust him to be their president.
The exclusion of Mashaei and Rafsanjani has created a significant void in name recognition amongst the candidates; a reality which Jalili is seizing upon with relative ease due to his recent high-level involvement in Iranian politics. His harsh words for the West and all others who oppose Iran's peaceful legal right to nuclear energy have carved out a niche for him among the conservatives, traditionalists, and highly nationalistic voter base. With repeated policy claims of unyielding pursuit for nuclear power under the established articles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran's top nuclear negotiator seems poised to lead as one who will not buckle under intense international economic and diplomatic pressure that will surely increase if he is elected.
For those hopeful of detente between the United States and Iran following these presidential elections, all the signs point away from such a muzzling of perpetual diplomatic cacophony. On the off-chance that Jalili does not get elected, the West need not hold its collective breath. Within the octet there exist only a few legitimate contenders who genuinely have a chance of winning the election, all of whom are hardline conservatives with loyalties toward the stance of the Supreme Leader. There does not seem to be any enthrallment among the group to reach any semblance of an accord over certain nationally engrained issues, namely the nuclear impasse.
A lot is riding on who Iran elects in the ballot boxes when the polls open in a matter of days. Staple issues such as human rights, the nuclear issue, the conflict spreading from Syria into Lebanon and a whole host of other subjects will command unrelenting attention once the international fascination with the post-election coverage dies down. Iran's ability to quickly and smoothly transition out of the electoral phase is imperative not only for its domestic sensibilities, but also for the stability the Middle East on a larger scale. As a standing indigenous power in the region, Iran holds arguably the second greatest sway in the most strategically vital part of the world after the United States. With this said, a great deal of appreciation must be positioned on Iranian politics, more so than most individuals generally wish to allocate. In the coming days it will become much more apparent as to what path this historic election will take and the extent to which the ripple effects will reach longstanding issues.
Omid Irani is a student at Seton Hall University pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor in History. He has written several articles analyzing Iran's nuclear issue with respect to U.S. and international sanctions thereon and focuses on matters pertaining to Iran holistically. He can be reached at Omid484@aol.com
... Payvand News - 03/25/16 ... --