Elections neither free nor fair

Signs of decay

Yassamine Mather looks at Iran’s presidential hopefuls and what passes for their rival programmes

The final round of Iran’s presidential elections are less than a month away, yet we still do not know the list of ‘accepted’ candidates.

Last week the current president, Hassan Rouhani, criticised the latest set of rules decided by Shoraye Negahban (the Guardian Council), insisting that the council had no legal authority to impose new criteria for presidential election candidates - they had barred anyone younger than 40 and older than 75. When the registration started, the ministry of interior ignored the Guardian Council’s decision and registered all candidates who had presented their papers. The current legislation stipulates the candidate qualifications:

Any Iranian citizen born in Iran, believing in Allah and Islam, who has always been loyal to the constitution, the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Republic may register as a presidential candidate.

Obviously this does stop anyone who is secular, leftwing or even nationalist from standing. That means whichever of the many factions of the regime wins, Iran’s next president will be loyal to the foundations of the Shia state. We now have a long list of 46 candidates, including former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and one woman. Other women who registered have been excluded, but, according to a spokesman for the Council back in 2013: “We do not reject any woman due to being a woman”.

Of course, the 12-man Guardian Council will reject a large number of those 46 applications and it is under no obligation to explain publicly its reasons for doing so.


So who are the candidates and what are their prospects for getting past the hurdle of the Guardian Council? (Its approved list will be available on May 27.)

The leading candidate from the conservative faction is Ebrahim Raisi, currently head of the judiciary, who claims to be at the forefront of a campaign against corruption. According to his election manifesto, he wants to form a “people’s government for a strong Iran” that will both end corruption and improve the country’s economy. Most of us on the left want him to be charged and tried as one of the clerics responsible for the mass execution of leftwing political prisoners in 1988.

A number of leading figures in the Revolutionary Guards (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - IRGC) have also registered. Amongst them is Hossein Dehghan, currently a military advisor to supreme leader Ali Khamenei. He is supposedly keen to resolve issues facing ordinary Iranians, promising to oppose nepotism and treat all Iranians as equal citizens. The other military candidate is brigadier general Saeed Mohammad, who is advisor to IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami. Until last month he was commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, an offshoot of the Revolutionary Guards. Fellow military leaders have accused Saeed Mohammad of financial corruption, some claiming he did not resign as commander, but was fired because of “violations” of basic rules. Announcing his candidacy, he claimed: “I know how to circumvent and also nullify sanctions, while I will make it so they will be lifted.” He probably is good at circumventing sanctions, especially when it comes to his own personal interests. However, he gave no details of how he will ensure they will be “lifted”.

Mohammad Hassan Nami, an army general who was briefly telecoms minister under Ahmadinejad, is also standing. Nami was Iran’s military attaché in North Korea, where he obtained a doctorate in ‘public management’ from Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung University. Someone else who is well qualified!

Another rightwinger who is likely to be confirmed as a candidate is secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, Mohsen Rezaei, a former senior military officer in the IRGC, who between 1980 and 1997 was its commander-in-chief.

It is unlikely that former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will get past the Guardian Council’s scrutiny. His occasional outbursts challenging the role of the supreme leader, plus the fact that he has already been rejected once as a candidate by the same council, makes him an unlikely final contender.

The most prominent ‘reformist’ candidate remains Sayyid Mostafa Tajzadeh, a senior member of the ‘reformist’ Islamic Iran Participation Front, as well as the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution of Iran organisation. He supported former ‘reformist’ prime minister Mir-Hossain Mousavi after the 2009 elections and spent seven years (2009-16) in Evin prison. His official election manifesto concentrates on “political freedoms” - he has claimed he will make the position of supreme leader “accountable” and will “send the IRGC back to the barracks”. It is also unlikely he will be on the final list of candidates, but Tajzadeh’s supporters are comparing him to Bernie Sanders - he did not manage to become an official Democratic Party candidate, but played an important role in influencing Biden, “moving him to the left”.

In reality, Biden’s economic programme has more to do with the crisis of neoliberal capitalism - the failure of 40 years of adherence to this ideology, compounded by a year of economic paralysis caused by Covid - rather than any influence of Sanders or his supporters. In addition Sanders had at a least the semblance of a reformist economic plan, while Tajzadeh’s manifesto contains no concrete economic proposal at all. It is difficult to imagine how the working class and other victims of Iran’s relentless neoliberal economic privatisation policies could possibly see any benefit in supporting him.

Other candidates from the ‘reformist’ faction are Eshaq Jahangiri, one of Rouhani’s vice-presidents; former health minister Masoud Pezeshkian; and Mohsen Hashemi, the current chairman of Tehran City Council and the son of the late president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. But, even if they are accepted by the Guardian Council, none of them stand out as serious challengers to the regime’s rightwing candidates.

In other words, this could be a rather boring election, which might boost the chances of the ‘compromise’ candidate, Ali Larijani - who is actually from the conservative faction and was leader of the Majles (parliament) during Rouhani’s first term (2013-17). He is a former ‘nuclear deal’ negotiator and is currently an advisor to ayatollah Khamenei. In his election broadcast he said the other presidential contenders were not capable of fixing the economy, particularly those with military or judicial backgrounds: “The economy is neither a garrison nor a court that would be managed with shouts and orders ... promising paradise in this complicated state that the country is going through is speaking falsely.”


The final day of the presidential registration was May 15 - just when, in the Middle East and throughout the world, there were major demonstrations in support of Palestine, and opponents of the Zionist state were expressing their horror at what was happening in Gaza and the occupied territories.

I do not know of any protests that took place in Iran, or of any major expression of solidarity. Previously, the government of Iran’s Islamic Republic has bombarded us with empty slogans about Israel. In government-sponsored events we have seen the ritual burning of the Israeli flag, heard cries of “Death to Israel” ... Yet, as Palestinians keep telling me, if only Iran’s rhetoric about Palestine had been translated into just a little practical support, there would be something to show for it.

But Iran’s ‘support’ remains little more than slogans. True, there is no love lost when it comes to Fatah, but even in the case of Hamas,1 the relationship has had many ups and downs - all of which makes a mockery of attempts by Zionists, Trump supporters and Iran’s royalists, who insist on equating the two as part of an Islamist alliance. In fact Hamas has ideological connections with the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran’s religious foe. It also has links to some of the emirates of the Persian Gulf - many of them Iran’s arch-enemies. At certain periods in recent times - for example, during the Syrian civil war - the two were on opposite sides. At times there has been cooperation and presumably some financial aid. However, there has been nothing on the scale of Iran’s commitment to such religious allies as the smaller, lesser known Palestinian religious group, Islamic Jihad, or the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Then there are the absurd utterances and actions of some Iranian politicians: Ahmadinejad’s stupid holocaust denial conference, comments by certain ayatollahs bordering on anti-Semitism … Such actions actually do damage to the Palestinian cause. For example, the sloganeering of the regime has had negative effects on the youth and the protest movement inside Iran. Unlike the leftwing opposition generated during the last years of the shah, when solidarity with the Palestinian cause, volunteering to fight in Palestine, etc, were part and parcel of the opposition’s internationalism, today Iran’s youth show little interest in Palestine.

This is partly because the majority are opposed to the regime and see any ‘friend’ of Tehran as their enemy. Of course, those who take the side of Iran’s Islamic Republic or the Syrian dictator simply because the US is opposed to them are misguided and amongst the youth who do support the regime there is certain fatigue, especially when it comes to supporting any cause outside Iran’s borders. Amongst Iranians, virtually the only voices in support of the Palestinians are those of the radical left - comrades who have often exposed the regime’s rhetoric and empty sloganeering, at the same time as coming to little publicised ‘arrangements’ with the Israeli state. Some have reminded us of the ‘secret’ deals between Iran’s Islamic Republic and Israel during and since ‘Irangate’ - the US sale of arms to Iran in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.

All this might explain why we have heard so little about Palestine from the current presidential hopefuls in Iran and their supporters. The latter may refer to the odd tweet by Tajzadhe or some other candidate, but the reality is that in the Islamic Republic there have been no major protests, demonstrations or even the previous government-organised rallies for Palestine.

Yet another sign of the decay of this rotten regime.

  1. It should be noted that Israeli security agents helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement as a ‘counterweight’ to the secularists and leftists of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.↩︎