A battle of anti-western hardliners

A battle of anti-western hardliners

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei leads funeral prayer for the late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other officials who died in a helicopter crash at the Tehran University campus in Tehran, Iran on May 22, 2024. 

Iranian Leader Press Office | Anadolu | Getty Images

Iran is holding snap elections on June 28 following the sudden death of former Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. But the vote is neither free, nor likely to bring about any significant change in the country, analysts say.

The election will take place against the backdrop of a battered Iranian economy, widespread popular discontent and crackdowns on dissent. The county is also dealing with high inflation, heavy Western sanctions, mounting tensions with the U.S., ramped-up Iranian nuclear enrichment, and the Israel-Hamas war.

Iran’s ultra-conservative Guardian Council, which ultimately decides who is allowed on the ballot, has approved a list of six candidates to run for the presidency. Most are hardliners who hold staunch anti-Western positions, with one candidate representing the reformist camp. Women who had registered as candidates were all disqualified by the Council.

“Six out of 80 candidates made it past the Guardian Council’s vetting process. Of these six, five are genuine hardliners and one a token reformist,” Behnam ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told CNBC.

He described Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei⁠ as the country’s “only ‘voter’ of significance.”

He’s “looking for continuity, not change,” ben Taleblu said, adding that half of the approved candidates have been sanctioned by Western governments.

‘Relatively predictable’ outcome

For some Iran watchers, the upcoming election presented an opportunity for the country’s government to “course-correct,” or work to rebuild its relationship with much of the Iranian populace and improve its image.

“That’s especially in the aftermath of the protests, the crackdowns, and just overall increased public dissatisfaction that’s almost become a hallmark of Raisi’s time in office. The leadership here had … an option to create at least a semblance of a competitive election,” said Nader Itayim, Mideast Gulf Editor at Argus Media.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi looks on during a TV interview, in Tehran, Iran May 7, 2024. 

Iran’s Presidency | WANA | Via Reuters

But with Sunday’s announcement of the approved candidates, “those hopes were largely dashed,” he said. “In reality it’s still very much the hardliners’ to lose.”

Elected in the summer of 2021 amid the lowest voter turnout in a presidential election since the Islamic Republic was founded in 1979, Raisi was a hardline right-winger seen as a potential successor to the Islamic Republic’s aging supreme leader Khamenei.

The 63-year-old Raisi was a harsh critic of the West, cracking down heavily on the protest movement that swept the nation following the death of a young Kurdish Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, while she was in the custody of Iran’s morality police in Sept. 2022. Hundreds of people were killed during the crackdown.

Low turnout is once again expected as many Iranians plan to boycott the vote, angry with a system they see as rigged and ineffective in improving their lives amid an economic crisis.

In a statement, the Union for Secular Republic and Human Rights in Iran group called for an “active boycott” of the presidential “show election.”

Iranian administrations have often blamed the country’s hardships on the oppression of U.S.-led sanctions.

It comes after turnout for Iran’s parliamentary election in March was also the lowest for a legislative contest in the Islamic Republic’s history at 41%.

‘Leadership is not that fussed about the turnout’

While Khamenei and other leaders are urging the public to vote, demonstrating its legitimacy through turnout doesn’t appear to be as much of a concern for the Islamic Republic anymore, says Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House.

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“The Islamic Republic recognizes that there is a massive gap in expectations and demands between the system and its people, there is a divide on social liberalization, economic trajectory and political opportunities that the system clearly recognizes that it cannot bridge — thereby it is no longer prioritizing its traditional outlet of electoral legitimacy as it did in past election,” she said.

“The government is trying to put forward a competitive election, but has clearly curated the candidate list in favor of an array of conservatives, all to guarantee that the outcome is relatively predictable.”

Mideast Gulf’s Itayim agrees. “If the past few elections show us anything, it’s really that the leadership is not that fussed about the turnout,” he said.

“It would like higher turnout, but if it doesn’t come, no problem. Ultimately it just looks like they are comfortable enough with the way things are going, and they don’t feel any imminent threat to their hold on power from the growing dissatisfaction, protests etc.”

Iranian women cast their ballots at a polling station during elections to select members of parliament and a key clerical body, in Tehran on March 1, 2024.

ATTA KENARE | AFP

Iranians who decide to vote will go to the polls on June 28, with the possibility of a second round of polls if the result is very close.

The 2021 presidential election was seen by many in Iran as having been engineered to ensure that Raisi, Khamenei’s protégé, would win, Itayim said. And the 85-year-old supreme leader now looks more emboldened and secure than ever.

Khamenei “appears headed down this path of consolidation of power, within the hardline camps, the conservative camps, almost no matter what,” Itayim said. 

“From where I’m standing, given who is set to run this time around, the upcoming election looks set to take Iran even further down that same path.”

Original news source Credit: www.cnbc.com

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