Iran's 11th Presidential Election (No. 7): Critical Notes on Iran's Forthcoming Presidential Election

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh
Executive Editor of Iran Review

Iran's Guardian Council has announced that discussions on the qualifications of presidential hopefuls will take longer than the initial 5-day deadline, which the Council had been originally given. As a result, vetting presidential hopefuls for qualifications will end on Tuesday, May 21, and the results will be announced the same day. Certainly, before the full list of candidates who are qualified to run for president in the forthcoming poll has not been made public, any forecast on the results of the election will be impossible. The spokesman of the Guardian Council has already declared that if the names of certain hopefuls did not appear on the final list of candidates, it would not mean that they are not qualified for other posts, because it simply means that they lack enough qualifications to run for president. There is no doubt that the high number of hopefuls who have registered for the presidential poll has made the Guardian Council’s task more difficult. Perhaps, it was for this reason that the spokesman of the Guardian Council announced that putting only a few names on the final list of candidates does not mean that the other hopefuls are not qualified for other positions.

However, regardless of what may happen in Iran's political environment following the announcement of the candidates list on Tuesday, there are two points which I would like to put forth here as an analyst who monitors Iran's political events from the inside while having an eye on the viewpoints of experts on the outside. These are points which I believe should receive due attention in order to make possible an accurate analysis of the current situation in Iran.

First point: The assumption of the confrontation between Iran's Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei] and [the former president] Mr. [Akbar] Hashemi Rafsanjani [of course, if the latter person is seen qualified by the Guardian Council and is also elected president]

This is one of the assumptions which have been frequently mentioned in many analytical reports which have been so far published on Iran's presidential election. The proponents of this viewpoint have taken three premises as granted: that there is a covert competition between Mr. Hashemi and Mr. Khamenei; that relations between the two clerics have gone sour in the past few years; and that the Iranian Leader is concerned about Mr. Hashemi gaining power as a result of which the Leader’s powers would become more limited. Based on the aforesaid premises, they claim that Iran's Supreme Leader is not willing to work with Mr. Hashemi because he is afraid of Mr. Hashemi’s power and the possibility that the Leader may lose control of the situation!

Let’s look at this issue from another point of view. Both Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Hashemi are among powerful pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Establishment. Both of them as well as the entire Iranian nation are well aware of this fact. Even despite the correct assumption that there are certain differences in their viewpoints and in the approaches they take to implementing certain policies, none of them has ever made harsh remarks or taken a sharp position against the other. The Iranian political experts have not forgotten the famous announcement by Mr. Khamenei when he said, “Nobody will be equal to Mr. Hashemi for me.” The Leader said this in a public ceremony in which the former President Mohammad Khatami was taking the oath of office and Mr. Hashemi was also present. On the opposite, during the most difficult days of the past few years, especially during the early weeks following the presidential election in 2009, when general conditions proved that there were differences of viewpoints between the two men, there was no sharp criticism exchanged between them which would fall outside the limits of friendly and respectful rules that the two clerics have been observing between them. Undoubtedly, both of them were able under those hectic conditions to add fuel to the turmoil by uttering sharp and provocative remarks against each other. However, this did not fortunately happen and the state of affairs proved that there were certain concerns which were more important to both of them than their superficial or profound differences. Those concerns included protecting the very foundation of the Islamic Establishment and preventing the situation from being misused by people both in and out of the country, who were waiting for any opportunity to increase the gap between these two pillars of Iran's Islamic Revolution.

As one may deduce from news and hearsay, the biggest concern for Mr. Hashemi in the days running up to his announcement of candidacy for presidential election has been agreement, or at least lack of disagreement, of the Leader with his presidential bid. Therefore, Mr. Hashemi’s hesitation would become meaningless if we assumed that every one of these two is bent on showing his power to the other. After Mr. Hashemi frequently announced that his decision to run for president was conditional on the Leader’s consent, it would have been possible for the Leader to communicate his disagreement with Mr. Hashemi’s candidacy directly to him in a private meeting.

Of course, some may resort to more complicated analyses which are based on conspiracy theory. They may even say that the Leader has been opposed to Hashemi’s decision to take part in the election, but Mr. Hashemi has ignored the Leader’s opinion. They may also put forth other pessimistic possibilities: the Leader has shown no opposition because he has been sure that Mr. Hashemi would be disqualified by the Guardian Council; the Leader has shown no opposition because he has been sure that, like the previous election in 2005, Mr. Hashemi would fail to garner enough number of votes. There are also many other pessimistic possibilities. However, the intricacies of politics in Iran sometimes, unfortunately, cause very simple and clear-cut analyses to be buried under tons of hypotheses which result from the personal views and affiliations of the analysts. The main conclusion which can be reached through Mr. Hashemi’s own writings, words, and two election statements, in addition to a lot of written material which has been produced by his advisors and put on their weblogs, is that there is not even the slightest chance that Hashemi means to oppose the Leader, or his presence has come despite his awareness of the Leader’s disagreement. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that the Leader has given the green light to Mr. Hashemi to run for president. The Leader has announced time and again that “I neither tell anybody to come [and take part in the election], nor tell them not to come.”


The assumption that the Leader in Iran is afraid of the presidential bid of a person like Mr. Hashemi is totally made up and fantasized by the media without having anything to do with the realities on the ground. It is quite natural for the Leader to have viewpoints of his own. One president may closely stick to the Leader’s views while another elected president may do it in a different way. In any case, the major policies of the country, especially in such spheres as foreign policy, the nuclear energy program, or relations with the United States, are finally molded and formulated by the Leader in consultation with his aides at the Supreme National Security Council. The Leader also approves and notified the general policies of the Islamic Establishment through the Expediency Council.

Second point: Analysis of Iran's developments on the basis of the mental environment stemming from presidential election in 2009

Another point for discussion is inattention to dynamisms and developments which have taken place both among state-run institutions and among various levels and layers of the Iranian society during the past four years. In another analytical report that I published to round up Iran's political developments in 2012 , I noted that the Iranian people behaved in a more mature and experienced way in 2012 compared to previous years. Perhaps this may seem to be an optimistic viewpoint, but these days, that maturity is quite evident in the analyses that experts produce, viewpoints of presidential hopefuls, positions taken by high-ranking officials, as well as the type of reaction shown by people in addition to their possible level of participation in the upcoming presidential poll. A glance at two statements, which have been so far issued by Mr. Hashemi on his presidential bid, clearly reveal that the present-day Mr. Hashemi is not the same as Hashemi in 2009. Of course, some presidential hopefuls still make controversial remarks, which are mostly aimed to appeal to the media; a higher degree of maturity is also evident in their other viewpoints. Presenting plans and setting a framework for their possible policies in case they win the presidential race are axial and indispensable parts of measures taken by presidential hopefuls. The latest remarks by the spokesman of Iran's Guardian Council prove that impartiality and rule of law is going to have the first say in the upcoming election. Straightforward remarks by presidential hopefuls about their compliance with the law have been more striking compared to all previous elections in Iran. On the other hand, people pay less attention to exaggerated and illogical promises of candidates. Many people who had chosen the boycott of the election as their method of choice for interaction with the Islamic Establishment during past years, have become more aware of the value of the participation in determining their political destiny especially after Messrs. Jalili, Hashemi and Mashaei decided to run for president. There are also many other points which cannot be elaborated here.

Perhaps, something may happen in coming days to cast doubt on some or all the presumptions I have brought and discussed in this article. However, it would be at least useful to know that although the current state of affairs in Iran's domestic political scene is determined by many unknown and possibly unexpected elements, one may also see the color of hope, dynamism, development and maturity, which should not be easily ignored. Attention to the combination of this color with everyday developments, and listening to moderate and fair analyses will make it possible to present a more real schema of Iran's political scene to outside observers.

*Iran's 11th Presidential Election (No. 6): Statistical Review of Presidential Elections in Iran

*Iran's 11th Presidential Election (No. 5): Economy Top Election Issue

*Iran's 11th Presidential Election (No. 4): Relations with United States

*Iran's 11th Presidential Election (No. 3): Notes on Elections in Iran

*Iran's 11th Presidential Election (No. 2): Political Array of Iran Presidential Election

*Iran's 11th Presidential Election (No. 1): Facts and Figures