Presidential Elections in Iran. All Set to Choose Ahmadinejad’s Successor
Antonella Vicini 14 June 2013

Once voters have handed in their electoral card, registered their presence and dipped their index finger in ink, they then have to find a place, not necessarily a private booth, but often instead a shared table. All this will require supervision provided by the 200,000 officials who will monitor the voting process and 6,000 of them will be responsible for voting in the capital. Polling stations will close at 8 p.m. and results are expected to be announced tomorrow. There are 285 polling stations abroad for a total of 850,000 Iranian voters.

The Iranian authorities have asked states hosting polling stations to guarantee security and prevent a number of “terrorist groups” from influencing the vote. It is not clear whether this is a reference to the People’s Mujahidin, an illegal movement composed of dissident politicians who have carried out terrorist attacks in the country, or more generally to external detractors. It is to these that the Supreme Guide Ali Khameini referred when he launched a last minute appeal for mass participation in order to “disappoint the enemy and reduce pressure.”

“A high turnout is the most important thing for the country. On Friday, using its great power, the nation will prove its profound bond and relationship with the Islamic institutions and will once again disappoint and defeat the enemy.”

“The political epic,” added Khamenei, “started today and will reach its peak on Friday with the hope, trust and determination of the people.”

What president might Iran choose?

Now that Aref and Haddad-Adel are no longer in the running, there are six politicians left (one reformist against three conservatives and two independents) fighting for the position of the man who will lead the Iranian government for the next four years.

The power of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is more or less equivalent to those of a head of government since in 1989 the position of prime minister was eliminated, while fundamental sectors in the management of the country, such as command of the armed forces, the judiciary and state television remain in the hands of the Supreme Guide seated at the top of the pyramid.

Effectively the president has autonomous decision-making power for economic and international policy, the main issues that will have to be addressed by Ahmadinejad’s successor, although over the past eight years we have seen how attempts to impose a personal platform and a degree of autonomy, especially as far as foreign policy has been concerned, have not been popular with Khamenei.

A man of Iranian origin and nationality, of high moral standing and proven knowledge of Islam, as well as a loyal believer, will become the seventh president, elected with an absolute majority of at least 50 per cent plus 1, unless, as expected by pollsters, there is a run-off on June 21st.

The conservative front led by the Supreme Guide and composed of Said Jalili, Baqer Qalibaf and Ali Akbar Velayati, could be penalised by the fact that it has chosen politicians too important to sacrifice themselves in the name of a common objective, as instead the reformists have done, asking Aref to stand down in order to allow voters to choose Hassan Rouhani.

This was a last minute decision that, judging by the mass of supporters seen marching through the streets of Tehran yesterday and widespread renewed enthusiasm, appears to have been the right one.

The ‘rabbit in the hat’ may, however, turn out to be Mohsen Rezaei. A number of surveys have placed him in the lead and according to many Iranians, including progressives, he is competent as far as economics are concerned, a subject dear to the hearts of Iranians at the moment. He has also spent the past four years preparing for this election travelling through the country, especially the more depressed areas, and talking to the people. Then there is also the former Minster for Telecommunications, Mohammad Gharazi, that the press appears to have already forgotten.

Election or S-election?

In spite of pompous warnings and figures indicating a great event, even more important than the elections held four years ago for which turnout was 85%, it is feared that turnout may be significantly lower this time, and this, more than any external factor is the main threat to the Islamic Republic. Fear does not only concern protests avoided in the course of the past four years, demoralizing the opposition with more or less harsh controlling policies depending on the period, but the total disaffection which means a lack of respect for the principles of the Revolution and the Islamic Republic.

In recent days, many of those who have decided not to vote because of disdain for the institution, have coined the term “s-election” to describe these elections in which candidates are the result of a previous selection made on the basis of power that the constitution confers to the Council of Guardians.

To a certain extent a provocation, partly a game and partly a reaction to candidates not considered as being representative, one can vote on-line for a virtual candidate, a woman called Zahra. Gender and name are no coincidence. Zahra is the name of a mother whose son vanished after the 2009 protests, but it is also the name of Moussavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a symbol together with her husband of the Green Wave. Finally, Zahra is also the lead character in a comic strip and virtual campaign echoing other similar attempts on the web. The most famous was perhaps the well-known Garry Kasparov , “We Choose”, a platform symbolically presenting eighteen candidates, six real ones and another 12 that include important names such as those of film director Jafar Panahi and imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and more controversial ones such as Mariam Rejavi, leader of the People’s Mujahidin, or the Shah’s son Reza Pahlavi.

All this confirming that the difficult campaign surrounding these elections is now also fought on-line. The Iranian authorities do it, cyber activists do it, and it is there that perhaps the most significant events will take place. Google has already reported that the Gmail accounts of thousands of Iranian users have been attacked by hackers in recent weeks.

Translation by Francesca Simmons



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