International media coverage on Sunday regarding the results of Iran’s vote misses the real point – the regime is using the façade of a free election to boost its legitimacy.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quick to praise the country for the high turnout in Friday’s vote.
While the battle between the hard-liner vs pragmatic camp narrative is playing out, in reality the election to choose the country’s parliament or Majlis, and the Assembly of Experts that will choose the successor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is between two sides that support the regime.
Only vetted candidates were allowed to run, leaving the public that opposes the regime with two options: vote for the pragmatist camp of President Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, or stay home.
The difference between the hard-liners and pragmatists is one of strategy, not of fundamental values.
Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said in a post on his website that it is too early to jump to conclusions.
“Yesterday some people were under the impression that the Assembly of Experts election results were final, then the Ministry of Interior said they are not. So let’s wait,” Javedanfar wrote.
Shahram Chubin, an Iranian- born scholar, said, “If the initial results are confirmed, the electorate will have spoken clearly in favor of a moderate, pragmatic approach as the most likely route to economic improvements.
“Even so, the hard-line, ideological elements can be counted upon to seek to continue to sabotage Rouhani’s economic plans,” Chubin, who is a nonresident senior associate at the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Jerusalem Post.
The Assembly of Experts election is more important because a larger moderate element in it will ensure that Khamenei’s successor is not automatically a hard-liner, he added.
Asked how Khamenei’s hard-line ruling faction could react to such a result, Chubin responded that since “they have full control of key institutions such as those related to security, intelligence and justice, they can harass, delay, intimidate and generally sabotage [reform efforts].”
Ramin Parham, an Iranian exile, dissident and intellectual based in Paris, has been analyzing the numbers coming out of Iran and also finds it difficult at this stage to tell what really is going on.
In Iran you do not have a voting registration system as in most democracies, he said, meaning that you merely need to show an ID card and vote, which allows for “the manipulation of the number of participants in the election.”
Hence, people can vote in multiple locations and can be bused to vote in Tehran or other cities, asserted Parham.
“The most important criteria for the elections is the participation rate, which allows the regime to justify its legitimacy,” he said.
The theocratic regime can then promote its message internationally by saying things such as: “Look at Saudi Arabia where women cannot vote, but we have a democracy,” Parham said.
“But the Majlis has no power anyway,” he continued, adding, “Did Rouhani get its approval before the nuclear deal? Did Rouhani present the complete budget? “The main thing Rouhani needs is the backing of the supreme leader, who holds real power anyway – nobody cares about the Majlis.”
The Iranian dissident went on to explain that the Majlis, or to give it its official name, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, demonstrates that its purpose is for “consultation,” and that “legislation is in the hands of the clergy.”
Asked about the Assembly of Experts, Parham said he agreed with Chubin that it is more important, but that in practice what will happen if Khamenei dies is there will be an extremely bitter battle between the two camps for power.
“And contrary to the situation as it was when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died in 1989, today the supreme leader’s office with hundreds of employees controls some of the most important aspects of the state, from intelligence services to foreign interventions,” he said.
“If Khamenei died today,” he continued, his administration would have power during the transition period and “could use its network to influence [events] and would be one of the main actors in what is the complexity of Iranian politics.”