Crystal Ball on Iran’s Presidential Election

Hassan Rowhani – who ended up winning the election – currently heads the Center for Strategic Studies, serving the dual roles of cleric and the Supreme Leader’s representative to Iran’s version of the National Security Council. He was chief nuclear negotiator under then President Mohammad Khatami and has been plugged in to Iran’s proliferation efforts for years. 

On Friday, June 14th, Iranians will go to the polls to elect a new president for a four year term. Out of a field of 686 applicants which included 30 women, the twelve-member Guardian Council that vets all candidates cut the number down to eight men that were deemed conservative and Islamic enough in order to legitimately aspire to the presidency.


Among those excluded was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a top advisor to outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and considered his ally and protégé. Also excluded were former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the founders of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.


The eight approved candidates include:


Gholam Ali Haddad Adel is an Iranian philosopher, politician and former speaker of Iran’s Parliament. He is a senior Expediency Council official.  His daughter is married to Khamenei’s son.


Saeed Jalili is Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the youngest presidential candidate in the race at 47. A career diplomat, he also represents Iran in talks with the European Union. He has the support of ultraconservatives in the theocratic leadership. 


Mohsen Rezaei is a veteran of Iranian military and politics, joining the revolutionary movement in 1979 and served as chief commander of the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps from 1981 to 1997. He is currently the secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a government body set up to settle discrepancies between the parliament and advisers to the supreme leader. He was named by Argentina as a suspect in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community’s AMIA building in Buenos Aires. He is wanted by Interpol.


Hassan Rowhani currently heads the Center for Strategic Studies, serving the dual roles of cleric and the Supreme Leader’s representative to Iran’s version of the National Security Council. He was chief nuclear negotiator under then President Mohammad Khatami and has been plugged in to Iran’s proliferation efforts for years. 


Mohammad Reza Aref can be characterized as an independent,being the most liberal of the final candidates. He served as a first vice president under President Mohammed Khatami in Khatami’s second term (2001-2005). Considered “reformist” by many, he has served as Chancellor of Teheran University and is American trained.


Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, currently the mayor of Tehran, is a member of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. He served as a commander of the Revolutionary Guard during the Iran-Iraq War. For the past few decades he has played a leading role in the maintenance of Iran’s internal security.


Mohammad Gharazi is running as an independent. A self-proclaimed “technocrat”, he is a former Member of Parliament who has held the posts of both oil and telecommunications minister.


Ali Akbar Velayati, a practicing physician, currently is a senior international affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  A former foreign minister, he served twice under President Rafsanjani. Like Mohsen Rezaei, there is a standing Interpol warrant for Velayati’s arrest for his part in the 1994 Buenos Aires bombing.


Now, who is likely to win out of this gang of unfriendly faces? Before answering that, some preliminary background information is needed. First, one needs to remember that Iranian elections are never elections; rather, they are “selections”—that is, the winner is pre-selected by the Supreme Leader and the election is rigged to reflect that choice. So, in truth, only one person votes in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s presidential elections. That person is the faqih—the Supreme Leader—Sayeed Ali Khamenei.


Next, the figures that the Iranian press or TV service gives of voter turnout are fraudulent. Voter turnout is likely to be worse than 2009 when it ran below 30%, despite regime claims that turnout was 65%. Members of the Bassij–the theological militia—and of the Pasdaran—the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)—are required to cast their votes as instructed and are paid for such. Likewise, in rural areas, votes are bought wholesale. Never-the-less, in urban areas such as Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Tabriz, or Mashad, the polls will remain nearly empty all day as the Iranian populous registers its displeasure and disgust as the lack of real freedom and democracy by boycotting the “election”. The regime claims high figures for voter turnout as a way of legitimizing its rule, but the Iranian populous is not fooled by such claims. It’s only Western diplomats and other naïve souls that are taken in by such falsified figures.


What is likely to happen is that no candidate will get a plurality in the first round. With eight candidates such a landslide is not only highly unlikely; it would be a major hint that the election was fixed from the outset. . Round two, reserved for the top two vote-getting candidates, follows the first round by one week and would take place on June 21st.


And now the predictions—and more importantly, what they may actually mean. It’s thought that Khamenei wants Saeed Jalili, the 47 year old nuclear negotiator hard-liner and career diplomat. Jalili is a fervent supporter of Khamenei and his election would signal that Iran is willing to stand up to western pressure and pursue the nuclear program to its successful conclusion, come what may. A Jalili victory says that the hard-liners are in control and no reforms should be anticipated. Iran under Jalili would seem like Ahmadinejad on designer steroids—a greater degree of class, but a yet higher degree of belligerence. Jalili is Khamenei’s way of saying: “Full steam ahead, come what may!”


Some analysts think that Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf), the current mayor of Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s successor in that post has a good chance as well because of his IRGC involvement. Others don’t think that he has been able to convince the regime hard-liners that he has become an irrevocable hard-liner himself. It’s thought that they continue to distrust him should he win the power of the presidency.


If Gholam Ali Haddad Adel wins a spot in the run-off it will mean that Khamenei is truly fearful that a revolt is at hand. Choosing a family member (if only by marriage) is indicative of the fear of all outsiders, including even the Praetorian Guard, the Pasdaran, that is the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps. Haddad-Adel is devoted to hisin-law, and his elevation to the presidency would show that Khamenei doesn’t trust anyone outside of his own family; it would be a clear sign of paranoia on Khamenei’s part.


If the reformist Mohammad Reza Aref is selected, it will be proof that Khamenei blinked first in his eyeball to eyeball confrontation with Netanyahu and the West, but quite frankly, Aref stands a snowball’s chances in hell.


The other candidates are unlikely to score that well, Valayati being the only exception. If Valayati is picked, it’s another version of the Jalili candidacy but even more “in your face” given Valayati’s Interpol warrant. However, Khamenei is more likely to keep him close as his senior advisor.


One week and counting, and we dare not forget that that nuclear clock is ticking in the background. Whoever is the winner of this election will become Ali Khamenei’s new puppet. However, as Israeli commentator Amotz Asa-el points out1, none of the candidates has any viable plan to rescue Iran’s failing economy, and it’s that factor that may tell the ultimate tale in the tragedy that is today’s Iran.




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