The names of the men who will be allowed to run for president of Iran by the
regime in the June 14 elections have now been announced. Six of eight are
supporters of the current ruling faction; the others are two weaker candidates
of the other two factions. Outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tumultuous
time in office has left many dissatisfied, especially since he has mismanaged
the economy and made Iran’s international situation worse by his provocative
With less than a month to go before the elections – the
campaign is only three weeks long to make things harder for the opposition – it
is now clear who the candidates are, and all those disagreeing with the dominant
faction have been vetoed by the six-member Guardian Council. This council
is controlled by the country’s real ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But
the complex maneuvers leading up to the election have given him a huge political
The core of the problem is that there are three factions.
Khamenei doesn’t want two of the factions – the super-hardliners and the
reformists – to win, but only the third group, his hardliners.
super-hardline faction’s candidate was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad’s
son-in-law and a man widely seen as his puppet. Khamenei hates Mashaei, and
Mashaei was disqualified.
Also disqualified was the potential “reform”
candidate, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. One hesitates to call him a true
reformer. Rafsanjani is an insider, indeed a former president (1989-1997), who
used to be an ally of Khamenei but now is a fierce rival. Rafsanjani is
pragmatic and reportedly conspicuously corrupt. He does not want to overturn the
regime but rather to change its direction; keeping it more out of international
trouble, and finding some way to shed the sanctions imposed to stop Iran’s
nuclear program. He might have tried to pull Iran back from international
The 78-year-old Rafsanjani is a dubious hero. He is not
part of the reform movement yet he was the best bet they have. The
Iranian ruling elite hates him, too. There are genuine differences
between him and Khamenei about the country’s direction.
So who does the
elite fix the election for? There are eight candidates left:
• The former
foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who is close to Khamenei.
Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran and close to Khamenei.
nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
He is very close to Khamenei, perhaps
his favorite, though he has no administrative experience.
Parliament speaker Gholam- Ali Haddad-Adel, who is close to Khamenei.
Asan Rowhani, former nuclear negotiator and Khamenei’s man on the National
• Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, whose daughter is married to
Then there are the two candidates not from Khamenei’s
faction: Muhammad Reza Aref is former vice president and represents the reform
group, while Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, is a
stand-in for the Ahmadinejad faction.
You might think six Khamenei
followers might split the hardline vote, but don’t worry, that will be taken
care of in the ballot- counting, if necessary.
Ironically, the main
impact of the Iranian election may be on the West. Articles and arguments have
been already appearing claiming that a post-election Iran would be more moderate
and that the next Iranian president would be willing to abandon the regime’s
subversive foreign policy and nuclear weapons program.
negotiators wanted to say: Give Iran a chance.
That will be much harder
now, but any effort to press sanctions and conclude that talks with Iran about
nuclear weapons are futile will probably be put back several months – indeed
through the rest of 2013 – giving the new president an opportunity to settle in
to run Iran and get his new government organized. The priority on the nuclear
issue can be seen in the fact that two of the nominees – including the current
front-runner Jalili – are former negotiators on that question and a third dealt
with the matter as foreign minister.
At any rate, Iran’s next president
is going to have to deal with three other tough questions: First, the sanctions
have put serious pressure on an Iranian economy that was already badly
mismanaged. The next president won’t stop the nuclear program so presumably the
best he can do is try to bypass sanctions through various tricks and charm his
way out of the situation.
Second, Iran’s regional policy has
One of the byproducts of the “Arab Spring” has been to raise
Sunni Arab Islamism as a barrier to Iran’s ambitions.
As Shia Muslims,
the Sunni groups like the Muslim Brotherhood see the Iranians as nearly
heretical; as Arabs the new revolutionary forces see the Iranians as alien
Even if Iran got nuclear weapons, most of the Arab world would
tremble, not celebrate.
Third, Iran is moving toward a possible
confrontation with the West and most of the Arab world over Syria. Tehran is
backing its junior ally, the Syrian government, against serious Arab opposition
from everyone but Hezbollah and an unenthusiastic Iraq. Iran is now escalating
its involvement in order to save the Syrian regime. There is a chance for a
proxy war in which most of the West and Arabs confront Iran and Russia by
backing the opposite sides. Even if Iran keeps the regime in control of part of
Syria it is not going to get Tehran out of its international
For those foolish enough to believe it, they will make a
contrast between the wildman Ahmadinejad and a new, less outlandish Iranian
president. For everyone else, Iran will the main threat in the
The writer is director of the Global Research in International
Affairs (GLORIA) Center (www.gloria-center.org). His forthcoming book, Nazis,
Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, is being published by Yale
University Press.The Rubin Report blog (rubinreports.blogspot.com)