What The Presidential Elections Mean In Iran

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When Iranians vote for a new president they will do so in the depths of an economic crisis brought on by crippling sanctions
When Iranians vote for a new president they will do so in the depths of an economic crisis brought on by crippling sanctions

Iran is on the brink of a seminal transformation. The tip of the iceberg is visible in this year’s presidential “elections.” The regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took a major step this week to install his preferred candidate. All other serious challengers, including lifelong regime insiders, some with proven fealty to Khamenei himself, were disqualified. The sham election is now a one-man show.

The curtains are thus drawn on the regime’s deceptive “hardliner” vs “moderate” duet. And this will come to the embarrassment of those in the West who promoted this pathetic hoopla for decades.

Khamenei’s crony, current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi, the only serious contender among 592 registered candidates, was qualified to run by the Guardian Council. The Iranian people know Raisi as the “Henchman of the 1988 massacre.” He was a key perpetrator of the murder of over 30,000 political prisoners in 1988. He has no academic or religious credentials even within the murderous theocracy.

In his remarks to parliament deputies, Khamenei threw his full support behind the Guardian Council decision to reject candidates who might have stood in the way of Raisi becoming President.

In the broader context, so-called elections during the mullahs’ four-decade-old dictatorship have never epitomized popular will. They are not democratic, fair or transparent. They are a travesty, a thinly disguised selection process by Khamenei, who is himself unelected.

Even by the regime’s own standards, this year’s election is radically different than those in years past.  It comes after three major nationwide uprisings that shook the regime - in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Today, more than ever, the regime continues to confront a society on the verge of explosion. Despite a global pandemic, protests are held daily by virtually every social sector.

To make matters worse, the economy is completely bankrupt. The regime is isolated regionally and internationally. Infighting is escalating dramatically. And, to cap it all off, a very potent organized opposition has become more active inside the country.

With the regime at its weakest point in history, Khamenei felt he had no choice but to consolidate power. So, his coterie in the 12-member Guardian Council axed even a loyal insider like Ali Larijani: the Parliament Speaker for 12 years, Secretary for the Supreme National Security Council, Head of the state-run radio and TV, Minister of Culture, and a general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Why would Khamenei purge one of his closest cronies? Simple. He has no choice. Owing to the extraordinary crises the regime is facing, Khamenei was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He had no choice but to purge all rival factions. But the decision to further close in ranks will inevitably backfire because it will shrink the mullahs’ power base and make it more fragile. The mullahs will become even more vulnerable in the face of looming social upheavals and other crises.

To silence disgruntled rival factions, Khamenei helped to prolong the conflict in Gaza. The head of a pro-regime Palestinian group sent a letter, thanking him, the IRGC Quds Force and its commander for being on the “battlefield” in Gaza, and for providing weapons and material support.

But even this hollow show of force will not provide a way out of the deadly impasse Khamenei is facing. The reasons are, again, simple. The regime’s suppressive measures have all failed. The organized opposition has continued to flourish in the form of Resistance Units across the country. Nationwide calls for the boycott of the sham election have also gained momentum.

Officials and state media are sounding the alarm. Every single day, they are warning about the growing appeal of the main opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), especially among the youth.

Even the regime’s former firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said recently that he is “seeing a flood that will sweep away all of you.”

The 2021 presidential race confirmed what the Iranian Resistance has been saying for four decades, that pinning hopes on illusory moderates or reformers within a medieval theocracy is seriously misguided. As such,  appeasing this regime is no longer justified because it will only facilitate repression and mass murder. It will help the regime get nuclear weapons and fan the flames of regional conflict.

The time has come for the West to adopt a firm approach.

Specifically, the international community must echo the Iranian people’s rallying cry that the regime’s elections are a sham. It should also work to hold mass murderers like Raisi accountable for their crimes, and stand with the Iranian people in their struggle to overthrow the regime and to establish a secular, democratic and free republic in its place.

Mr. Mohaddessin, the son of a Grand Ayatollah in the Holy City of Qom, is the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran. He was a political prisoner under the Shah’s regime.  

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