Presidential election 2013, reformists cornered in Tehran
Giuseppe Acconcia 12 February 2013

The political clash on candidatures

The clash between conservatives and ultra conservatives is fierce on electoral procedures and names of candidates. The candidatures will be made known in May after the Council of Guardians’ examination, which will be able to scrap inconvenient politicians, once again. On the one hand, Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei has sorely criticised ultra conservative politicians asking for “free elections”, underlining that the vote will be carried out without rigging. Not without irony, the old Ayatollah questioned: “Have elections in the past three decades not been free, perhaps? In what country are elections freer than in Iran?”. Khamenei’s man, among favourites to win the Presidential election, is Ali Akbar Velayati, conservative adviser to the Supreme Leader on foreign policy.

On the other hand, the outgoing President-in-office, non re-electable for a third mandate, still seems eager to exert a degree of influence on the electoral campaign. He replaced eleven governors who played key roles in the management of electoral procedures – and, in December dismissed the Minister of Health, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi. The latter was forced to resign for criticising inadequate measures taken against the lack of medicines caused by international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programme. In reality this is a move to debunk conservative President of the Majlis (Parliament) close to Minister Dastjeri and possible candidate in the elections, Ali Larijani’s political weight. While the man chosen by Ahmadinejad could be his close collaborator Efsandiar Rahim Manshaei.

The clash between the Presidency of the Republic and the Supreme Leader would have determined a new political space for the ultimate technocrat, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The former President is pushing for Hassan Rohani’s candidature – director of the Council’s research centre that settles controversies between Parliament and the Council of Guardians. Other possible candidatures are those of former Pasdaran officer, Mohsen Rezai and the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Conservatives are also divided on the permanency of the two main reformist leaders’ house arrest. So much that ultra conservative politician Kabibollah Askaroladi has defined the accusations of sedition against Moussavi and Karroubi as “without foundation”. These opinions have caused a tough response by Supreme Leader Khamenei. However, no reformist seems close to securing a safe candidature in the elections. Even though politician, Mohamad Reza Aref’s -who has harshly criticised Ahmadinejad’s economic policy – chances are increasing.

The rial devaluation

Iran is undergoing a currency crisis without precedent. The devaluation of the rial has already threatened the position of Governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Mahmoud Bahmani, with both Parliament and the Court of Auditors calling for his resignation. A parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on financial activities has in fact underlined irregularities in the currency market, doubts on procedures to fix the discount rate and an upper limit on loans. However, President Ahmadinejad has dismissed Bahmani’s subsequent demand for early retirement.

The depreciation of Iranian currency has exceeded last autumn’s record levels, touching the worst quotations ever. In recent weeks forty thousand rial are needed for one dollar. This is primarily affecting the urban middle class and workers. Not only, in recent months rent prices have dramatically increased while the housing market and prices of cars have significantly increased. Cars are amongst 77 goods defined as “luxury products”, whose import has been blocked since last November to cope with the shortage of hard currency created by Western banking sanctions against the Iranian nuclear programme. The crash of proceeds from petrol export, which dropped to a minimum after the block imposed last summer by countries of the European Union, has been a hard blow for state coffers and the crisis is especially hitting the Ministry of Health. Former Minister Dastjerdi reported that of 2.5 billion dollars requested for the purchase of medicine and equipment from abroad only a small proportion has arrived. Not only, according to the conservative daily newspaper Qanun, protests in Iranian cities could soon break out due to the worsening of the economic situation caused by international sanctions.

Civil society under target

In view of the elections, freedom of press is once again paying a sore price. Several newspapers have been searched, including ultra conservative ones and at least 49 journalists affiliated to the reformist movement have been arrested. Some of them have been reported for fostering relations with foreign media critical of the Iranian political elite. Targeted newspapers are: Shargh, Arman, Bahar and Etemad with journalists of these newspapers supposedly collaborating with foreign media accused of being hostile to the Islamic Republic, amongst which, BBC in Persian, Voice of America and Radio Farda.

Among arrested journalists are the comic Pouria Alami and political commentator Saba Azarpeyk. Then, without providing any motive, the new conservative website Tabnak, close to possible presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, was blocked. Last week, editors-in-chief of Ilna news agency’s political coverage, Milad Fadaie, and of Bahar daily newspaper’s coverage Soleyman Mohammadi, were arrested.

Simultaneously, while awaiting the elections, Iranian authorities are continuing their traditional anti-American rhetoric with reference to the new talks on the nuclear programme. A gigantic propaganda billboard in Tehran reminds people that even with Obama’s second presidency, the United States is still an enemy despite their availability to negotiate. On the contrary, local media describe America as a danger that is all the more “subtle when it holds out its hand”. The image appeared on a building undergoing restructuring in Valiasr Square near central Tehran. That is not all. In one of his last public interventions Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said to consider even just “the idea that global arrogance guided by the United States can reach a compromise with the Islamic movement” as “a mistake”.

Iranian elections are getting closer in a regional context of great political instability. Yet, control techniques over public opinion remain the same with an unknown outcome of the squaring of accounts between conservatives and ultra conservatives in an economic context, which has deteriorated greatly – also due to international sanctions.

Translated by Maria Elena Bottigliero



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