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An Election for Iran or the Supreme Leader?

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Credit:

TEHRAN, May 7 2013 (IPS) - As the five-day registration period for presidential candidates began here Tuesday, the question of whether Iran’s upcoming election will represent the will of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or the people of Iran is uppermost on many people’s minds, including those of the potential candidates.

In the crowded field of former and current officials who have declared their intent to run, many have already made a point of declaring their total allegiance to the Leader’s dictates. For instance, the repeat presidential candidate, conservative Mohsen Rezaee, promised on Apr. 1 that his administration will be “the most coordinated administration” with the Leader ever.

Even some reformists, who are known to be critics of the Leader, have called for the candidacy of someone who will not provoke Khamenei’s opposition or sensitivities.

Abbas Abdi, a reformist journalist, goes as far as identifying the candidacy of former president Mohammad Khatami as a mistake, saying “Khatami has not had a meeting with a leader for the past four years. How could his presidency be possible?”

But this is not a position taken by many other reformist individuals or groups. Since mid-March many individuals and groups, through public letters and meetings, have called upon Khatami to become a candidate. Their call is premised on Khatami’s popularity and the belief in the continued attractiveness of his ideas and conduct as president.

Similar calls have been made for former president and current chair of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to run. Neither of the past presidents has committed himself, and both have said that they will not run unless the leader agrees to their candidacy. Their argument has been that, without such a nod, the political environment will just become too contentious and tension-ridden.

In Rafsanjani’s words, “if Ayatollah Khamenei does not agree with my candidacy, the result will be counterproductive…If there’s a situation where there is a difference between me and the leadership of the state, all of us will suffer.”

In fact, mere talk of runs by Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani has led to overwrought accusations on the part of hardliners.

Hossein Shariatmadari, the intractable editor of the hardline Kayhan Daily, called Khatami “corrupt on earth” and a “supporter of sedition,” a reference to his backing of former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mussavi and Mehdi Karrubi who remain under house arrest due to the protests that followed the 2009 presidential election.

According to Shariatmadari, “supporters of sedition… will undoubtedly be disqualified.”

In turn, the hardline minister of intelligence, Heidar Moslehi, went after Rafsanjani, calling him “the source of sedition.” His language was so harsh that it elicited a response from several members of Parliament who scolded the minister for his overt political involvement and accusations against someone who continues to serve as the chair of the Leader’s own advisory council.

No one doubts that these attacks are intended to intimidate the two former presidents. Whether Khamenei himself is behind them is also a subject of much speculation. After all, Shariatmadari is appointed by Khamenei, while the minister of intelligence was protected from being fired by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad through Khamenei’s personal intervention.

Even more fundamental is the question of whether the upcoming election will once again turn into an arena of confrontation between the presumed desired candidate of the Leader and the one chosen by society, as many believe was the case in the 2009 election when Ahmadinejad was swiftly declared the winner.

While the protests have long since ended, many voters continue to believe that there was extensive fraud in 2009. Furthermore, given his ardent support for Ahmadinejad’s re-election, many hold Khamenei responsible for the downward economic spiral the country has faced and their own economic woes.

In the words of a 73-year-old taxi driver, “I used to believe in Khamenei, but when I saw that he wants everything for himself and is ready to take the country into ruin in order to insist that he made the right choice, I no longer support him. Every day I curse him for the sake of the youth in this country.”

Talk about potential runs by Khatami and Rafsanjani had created hope that Khamenei might have finally seen the mistake he made in 2009 and become willing to entertain honest competition among a whole slew of candidates representing the diverse sentiments of society.

But the harsh attacks by Shariatmadari and Moslehi have again created doubts about the potential for a fair election and Khamenei’s calculations.

According to a well-known novelist who spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity, “Khameni wants us to back down and acknowledge his leadership as a principle of the constitution but when we back down, he wants more. When we say we accept the constitution, his supporters say it is not enough to accept his constitutional role; you have to completely give in to his leadership.

“When we say we will participate in the election, they say we must recant our actions in 2009. But he himself is not willing to take any responsibility or acknowledge mistakes for the mess Ahmadinejad has created in the country.”

Reformists are no longer the only critics. A prominent conservative who wished to remain anonymous told IPS that he considers Khamenei a failed leader who has tried to become like the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

This conservative politician believes that Khamenei has never understood the two main differences he has with Khomeini. “First of all Khomeini was a charismatic leader who had an organic relationship with the society while Khamenei has an organisational relationship,” he said.

“Secondly, Khomeini was clever enough to accommodate popular sentiment even if they were against his own wishes while Khamenei obstinately and vindictively stands against them.”

Many citizens who participated in the 2009 election and continue to think that their vote was “stolen” will not vote in the Jun. 14 election. But everyone will be watching to see whether Khamenei will again insist on having his wish become the choice of the country.

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