Iran’s Presidential Election: Electioneering without candidates

Yassamine Mather

Iran’s presidential elections will be held on June 18 and so far it is not clear who will be the candidates proposed by the many Islamic Republic factions and who will be accepted by the Guardian Council, which is responsible for vetting the candidates’ religious and political credentials.

However, unofficial electioneering has started and – despite predictions that this might be a boring election between two military men, or between a rightwing conservative cleric and a military man – it looks like the supreme leader and Iran’s Islamic regime have decided to spice up the election, presumably to avoid a painfully low turnout. Speculation is growing that a number of reformist candidates will stand.

Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei is supposed to be impartial and above such mundane matters, but members of his team often have a quiet word with those they do not want to stand. In the last presidential elections in 2016, it was widely assumed that Khamenei intervened to stop former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad running. This year there are reports that the supreme leader has told Sayyid Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini, not to stand. Khomeini junior is said to be close to the ‘reformist’ factions of the regime.

The obvious candidate of the conservative faction would have been ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, who stood against Hassan Rouhani in 2016 and is currently head of the judiciary. However, according to the rumour mill in Tehran, Khamenei has told him not to stand, as he would prefer a military candidate to represent the right. In fact so far three current and former commanders of the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) have announced their wish to stand as candidates.


Last week, Sayyid Mostafa Tajzadeh announced his candidacy. Tajzadeh was a ‘reformist’ member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, who was briefly acting minister of the interior during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). He was later held in Evin prison between 2009 and 2016 for supporting the Iranian Green Movement, which has nothing to do with environmental concerns, but was formed in opposition to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, following the disputed presidential elections of 2009. He was convicted of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”.

The following are translations of extracts from his first statement, announcing his candidacy:

Iran and Iranians suffer from the failure of incompetent and corrupt rulers, chronic inflation, discrimination, a rentier economy and pervasive corruption, social anomalies, expensive and unnecessary contradictions with the United States, back-breaking sanctions, as well as the consequences of a deadly virus, Corona.

The government’s inability to adapt itself to national and global developments, dissatisfaction and general despair is the result of censorship, removal of competent officials for the sake of imposing more security and encouraging a militarist environment ….

I … enter the presidential election field with the pure spirit of martyrs of justice and freedom …

I come to defend the rights of the disadvantaged, especially the workers and teachers and all those who get a fixed salary, those who suffer from the pressures of sanctions …

I come to remove all forms of discrimination against women.

I come to abolish all sanctions by eliminating tension and normalising relations with the United States and expanding events with all countries from China and Russia to Europe and India …

We come to enable civil institutions and ensure free circulation of information and freedom of the virtual space …

I am coming to speed up the development of the country with an efficient, young and inclusive government, the livelihood of the people is improved and the rights and dignity of all Iranians are secured irrespective of their ethnicity, religion …

I will be the voice of the voiceless in this election with the help of god and the support of the people; the voice of those who face repression in 1396 and October 1398 [references to two periods of severe repression in January 2018 and October 2019, using the Iranian calendar]; the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash [brought down by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who mistook it for a US military aircraft in January 2020]; those marginalised and ignored …

Of course, with this ‘extremist’ manifesto it is unlikely that Tajzadeh will be acceptable to the Council of Guardians, which vets all candidates, and currently even the ‘reformist’ media in Tehran do not see him with much of a chance. So it could be that, as far as ‘reformists’ are concerned, he is the stalking horse paving the way for the candidacy of another.

Tajzadeh followed this initial manifesto-style statement with participation in an online Q&A session. At least 12,000 social media users were listening, many overseas, ranging from ‘reformists’ and conservative loyalists to opponents of the regime who actually call for its overthrow, and Tajzadeh tried to answer all the questions.

In order to get past the Council of Guardians he is clearly attempting to organise a popular campaign that cannot be ignored by the authorities, and the online events were part of this tactic. He claims to have the endorsement of Mehdi Karroubi – one of the leaders of the Green movement, who is currently under a reduced form of house arrest. On rumours that ayatollah Khamenei’s son might succeed him as supreme leader, Tajzadeh said he believed the supreme leader is ‘too wise’ to go for an option based on inheritance.

However, both the manifesto and the Q&A session are clear examples of the limitations of Iran’s ‘reformists’. For a start no politician in his/her right mind says they are in favour of the powerful, the rich. No-one claims to be for corruption or incompetence, so all this is just pie in the sky. More significantly his initial statement had nothing on economic policy. The ‘reformist’ factions of the Iranian regime have presided over decades of neoliberalism: unprecedented privatisation has played its part in increasing the gap between the rich and poor, while endemic corruption, the casualisation of labour, the abolition of tens of thousands of full-time jobs, the systematic non-payment of wages – all have played their part in creating the current disastrous situation. These will not just go away if sanctions are removed and global trade picks up.

And the man who spent seven years in jail for supporting the Green movement ‘reformists’ will not say a word against the supreme leader.

Say ‘No!’

The current foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who is apparently ‘the most popular politician inside the country’, claims he will not stand as a candidate. However, that has not stopped the leaking of an audio tape, from February 2021, which highlights the conflict between the ‘reformist’ and conservative factions of the regime. It was sent to a number of Persian media outlets outside Iran, including BBC Persian and Iran International TV (or Bin Salman International, as many Iranians call it), which is financed by Saudi Arabia. It is too early to say if the tape will damage Zarif or enhance his chances if he stands – and if he gets through the Council of Guardians vetting.

However, contrary to all the fuss in both the Iranian and global media, there were no major surprises in the leaked audio file. There was, however, confirmation by Zarif of the conflict between the ministry of foreign affairs and the Revolutionary Guards regarding all aspects of foreign policy, from the nuclear deal to intervention in Syria and relations with Russia.

According to Zarif, “Many diplomatic prices that we paid were because the [military] field was a priority.” More controversially, he says that general Qasem Soleimani, who was assassinated by the US in January 2020, used to instruct him on how to conduct international negotiations:

Almost every time I went for talks, it was Martyr Soleimani who said: “I want you to get this advantage, this point.” He said: “When you go to talk to [Russian foreign minister] Lavrov, get points 1, 2, 3 and 4 … If I had said something like, ‘Don’t use Iran Air [civilian] planes on the Tehran-Syria route [for military purposes]’, he would not have accepted my suggestion.”

It is clear from the tape that he and Soleimani argued extensively about the issue of civilian flights carrying military personnel or equipment to Syria. He also claims it was John Kerry, US secretary of state under Barack Obama, who divulged secret information about the Revolutionary Guards intervention in Syria that he did not know.

Again according to Zarif, Russia was against the Iran nuclear deal (before and even after it was signed) and it was Russia that encouraged and succeeded in getting Iran more involved in the Syrian civil war by convincing Soleimani.

The general consensus is that the leak was designed to ruin Zarif’s chances, should he stand as a presidential candidate, but I am not so sure. As far as the Islamic Republic of Iran is concerned, nothing is what it seems: it could be a deliberate attempt to increase the popularity of Zarif or whoever will be the reformist faction’s candidate. It could be a deliberate attempt by those close to the supreme leader to make the incoming elections more ‘exciting’ than what has been predicted. It could be part of a plan to show the foreign ministry as ‘reasonable and moderate’ negotiators in the current talks in Vienna – who knows?

One possibility is that broadcasters on the idiotic exiled, foreign-paid Persian-speaking media, who constantly predict the forthcoming downfall of the Islamic Republic, have once again fallen into a trap set by their enemy. Iran’s Shia rulers have survived 42 years in power because they are very good at re-inventing themselves as religious or pragmatic, moderate or hard-line, depending on what is more likely to guarantee their survival.

The Iranian left and the defenders of the Iranian working class must boycott these sham elections. However, we must at the same time expose and distance ourselves from rightwing, royalist, imperialist-financed boycotters. After all, the ex-shah boasted that he had forced the two legal parties of his time – the ones he labelled the ‘yes party’ and the ‘of course party’ – to join forces in one new party, called Rastakhiz, in 1975.

The supporters of the 1953 US-backed coup, the supporters of the shah, those financed by reactionary US institutions, such as the Republican, Zionist-financed National Endowment for Democracy – none of these will bring ‘democracy’ to Iran. The coming election will be a good time to say ‘No!’ to both the Islamic Republic, including its many factions, and its reactionary opponents.

Posted on Weekly Worker 29th April 2021

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