Iran’s election vetting body bars top moderates from running for presidency

Iran’s election vetting body bars top moderates from running for presidency
Ebrahim Raisi campaigning in Tehran during his run for the 2017 presidential election, which Hassan Rouhani won with a landslide.
By bne IntelIiNews May 25, 2021

Iran’s Guardian Council election vetting body has approved the candidacy of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi for the upcoming June presidential poll, while barring some of his main rivals including former parliament speaker and moderate conservative Ali Larijani from running.

Also among the many barred are First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, an ally of the outgoing pragmatic, moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, and populist former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani had urged the ministry of interior to step back from publishing its list of candidates as final, but it was leaked overnight to the conservative Fars News Agency. “Minimal participation is not in anyone’s interest and the first losers as a result of minimal participation are the people and no political group will benefit from minimal participation,” Rouhani’s spokesman said.

Azar Mansouri, of the Iran Reformists Front, an alliance of smaller parties, said: “What the Guardian Council did is illegal and in violation of people’s rights to vote in free elections . It has made elections meaningless.”

Among the seven applicants given permission to pursue the presidency are former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a conservative; former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) chief Mohsen Rezaei, a frequent presidential candidate; central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, a low-profile moderate and reformist Mohsen Mehr Alizadeh, an Iranian Azerbaijani and former Isfahan governor.

In a statement reported by Iranian media, Jahangiri said: “The disqualification of many qualified people is a serious threat to public participation and fair competition among political tendencies, especially reformists.”

Hundreds of rejections

The vetting body first rejected around 560 of approximately 590 applications for a candidacy that it received and then selected the seven approved candidates from 40 it said met core criteria for a run. But even Raisi, a principlist who lost heavily to Rouhani in the run-off in the 2017 presidential election, appeared to object to the large number of disqualifications.

“Since yesterday evening, when I was informed of the results, ... I have made contacts and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory,” Raisi said on Twitter.

Larijani, who has backed the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and swung behind the ongoing Vienna talks aimed at reviving it, showed no sign of appealing against the Council ruling, tweeting: “Now that the election process has been conducted in this way, I have done my duty before God and my dear nation.”

Ali Motahari, Larijani’s brother-in-law and a former lawmaker, wrote on Twitter that the Council rejected Larijani because his daughter lives in the US, where she is studying medicine.

The Council did not specify its reasoning behind the blocking of would-be candidates.

The exclusion of so many candidates may improve the election prospects of Raisi, a close ally of 82-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whom many Iran analysts expect him to succeed, but it may end hopes of a high turnout in the June 18 vote. At the last election, Iran boasted of the high participation, even taunting the US for suffering low turnouts at the ballot box.

Bitter recession

Iran has been through a bitter recession that lasted nearly three years from around the time former US president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled Washington out of the multilateral nuclear deal and opted to hit Tehran with swingeing sanctions in an effort at securing a tougher accord and at forcing the Iranians to accept a humbler role in Middle East affairs. Though it caused Iran huge economic damage, Trump’s policy ultimately failed and the hardliners, celebrating the fact that the country’s “resistance economy” showed enough resilience to overcome Trump’s “maximum pressure” policies, have continued to point the finger at Rouhani and other moderates for agreeing to sign the nuclear deal (also known as the JCPOA and designed to ensure Iran’s nuclear programme stays entirely civilian in return for a shield against major economic sanctions) with “untrustworthy America”.

Rouhani, hoping to secure an economic boost for Iran ahead of the election, is supporting the Vienna talks, which he sees as offering an opportunity to revive the JCPOA if an arrangement with the Biden administration can be found. Last week, in an update on the talks, he said only minor details now stood in the way of relaunching the JCPOA, while he warned critics that it would be irresponsible for any Iranian politician to obstruct an agreement on reviving the accord simply for narrow, partisan reasons. Such an approach, he said, would be against the national interest.

While campaigning to succeed Rouhani, Raisi may once again have to defend himself against allegations about his role in mass executions in 1988 that came at the end of Iran’s long war with Iraq. After Iran’s then-supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini accepted a UN-brokered ceasefire, members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, heavily armed by Saddam Hussein, stormed across the Iranian border in a surprise attack. Iran ultimately blunted their assault, but the attack set the stage for the sham retrials of political prisoners, militants and others that would become known as “death commissions”. Prisoners who identified themselves as “mujahedeen” were sent to their deaths, while others were questioned about their willingness to “clear minefields for the army of the Islamic Republic,” according to a 1990 Amnesty International report cited by The Associated Press.