June 3, 2013

On the Final Straight of the Presidential Race

A bit more than in a week in Iran will take place the eleventh Presidential election. Eight candidates, chosen by the Guardian Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, will participate in it. It happened so that four of them are Conservatives, others represent different reformist currents. There is not a single supporter of the current President M. Ahmadinejad on the list. His Advisor and relative, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, who applied for participation in the elections, was expelled by the Supervisory Council, together with the main contender of Ahmadinejad, his predecessor at the post of President, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

If actually no one objected to ruling out Mashaie from the list of candidates, against Rafsanjani’s participation in the Presidential elections were more than one hundred members of the Iranian Parliament. The reason was his conciliatory to Israel statement, which was used as a formal excuse for not letting him participate in the election; as such a position fundamentally contradicts the ideals of the Islamic revolution. Not accidentally at all, the State Department of the USA criticized the decision of the Council to exclude Rafsanjani from the list, as peace between Israel and Iran matches the policy, being led by the current Chief of the American State Department John Kerry.

We should understand that the main problem is not the sharpness of conflicts between different currents and parties, representatives of which want to occupy President’s post. What does matter, is the fact that the elections of the President of the IRI are completing some important for the country process within the ruling class of the IRI on the eve of a new political cycle.

Each election carries:

  • A complex, large-scale analysis of foreign and domestic state strategy over the last 4 years;
  • Another round of coordination of interests of different political forces and centers of influence - different groups of high Shiite clergy, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, other power structures and key economic institutions of the country;
  • Process of coordination and putting forward for the post of President of several political figures, supported by the main elite groups and popular in the Iranian society.

But let’s return to the current election. The New Year Address of the Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei testified to readiness for “creative development” of ideological conquests of the Islamic Revolution and readiness to go for a compromise. The promise, which it contained, - to ensure participation in the election of the so called reformist wing, was meant to dispel apathy and tiredness from difficulties of the already 34 years of post-Revolution struggle of the country for its rights in the region, and especially from difficulties of the last few years, which include a tough confrontation with the USA and the West in general, struggle for leadership in the region of the Persian Gulf, confrontation with hostile forces in Iraq and Syria.

It is absolutely clear, that a new large-scale or local war in the Middle East in the nearest future, which has been being predicted for a couple of last years, not only will not rescue, but will dramatically weaken the position of the USA’s President Barak Obama, who, even without that war, is losing his influence in the hard inter-political confrontation between Republicans and Democrats. The questions of the future of Syria, Iranian nuclear program, economic sanctions and embargo on Iran’s energy carriers, got overripe long ago and led to the dead end not only Iran, but also its opponents.

So, not letting Rafsanjani to the election has not only balanced the decision on ruling out Mashaie from the list of candidates, but, from the formal point of view, equaled the positions of Reformists and Conservatives, as both the parties, as it has been mentioned above, are represented by four candidates. Even if Rafsanjani had been approved as a candidate, most possibly, he would have given his votes to much younger Hassan Rouhani, as he is already 80.  

Rouhani himself has already formed his campaign headquarters out of close to Rafsanjani former Ministers and enlisted the support of such spiritual authorities as the former President Seyed Mohammad Khatami, former Speaker of the Parliament Ali Akbar Nateg-Nuri and a grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Khomeini.

Another candidate - Reformist - Vice-President in Khatami’s times Mohammad Reza Aref is also from a group of supporters of Rafsanjani, as is the ex-Minister of Oil and Information and Communication Technologies Seyed Mohammad Karazi. Now he begins to debate with Reformist Mohsen Rezaee, a revolutionary, a member of the Iran-Iraq war and the former Commander of the Revolutionary Guards, who now heads the Expediency Council of Iran (Expediency Council – has the authority to mediate disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council, and serves as an advisory body to the Supreme Leader, making it one of the most powerful governing bodies in the country.)

According to many analysts, the problem is that Rezaee, unlike Karazi and Aref, is unlikely to agree to withdraw his candidacy in favor of Rouhani. But his election to the Presidency would create unnecessary political difficulties, including in relations with the West, as he is still on the "red list" of Interpol in connection with the charges in the preparation by agents of the IRGC of an action for destruction of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994. Besides, neither Israel nor the West would ever forget his management of the organization "Ansar al-Hezbollah" and participation in fighting in the groups of the Organization of Liberation of Palestine "Fath".

Perhaps the most striking figure among Conservatives is the current Mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf - also in his own way a legendary figure, who, at the age of 22 became the Commander of a Revolutionary Guards’ Division, and then-for a long time had been a Chief of the Air Forces and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the country. As an organizer and business executive, he became famous for fighting against smuggling and illegal foreign exchange trading, and that, as Mayor of the capital city; on the site of the infamous prison "Evin" he built a city park. Many observers, paying tribute to Qalibaf’s charisma, predict him, at least, participation in the second round.

Besides, the camp of Conservatives is represented by Khamenei’s Adviser on International Affairs, 68-year-old Ali Akbar Velayati, who had been the Foreign Minister of Iran for 16 hard years - during the war with Iraq and the period of the blockade. Besides, Velayati is the most compromise figure for the leaders of Conservative and Radical Islamic organizations as well as for Reformists. Conservatives, in their turn, believe that he would be acceptable for the West negotiator.

Qalibaf, Velayati and Chief Adviser and a relative of the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei ,theologian and educator, Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, are part of the so-called coalition of "2 +1" and promise to act consolidated in the debates, complementing each other. Closes the four of Conservatives the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili, supported by influential Islamic organizations. Although Jalili is not included in the coalition "2 +1", Ali Akbar Velayati, did not exclude that it will be Jalilui in whose favor all other Conservatives may withdraw their candidatures.

The information site entekhab.ir has published the opinion about this candidate of the American newspaper Washington Post, which considers Saeed Jalili one of the most prominent candidates after Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s leaving the Presidential race, but considers him an extremely inflexible and ideologically minded politician and therefore does not think it possible for him to win the election. The same publication points out that it is Jalili's uncompromising position in international negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue that did not allow achieve positive results in this direction.

An Iranian photographer has put Jalili’s pictures on the site didanihaa.com, in which Jalili has changed his hairstyle, having covered the characteristic spots on the forehead signs of a hard working prayer.

It is still difficult to predict who will win the election - the Reformers, on whom counts Iranian business, or Conservatives, representing the interests of the state sector. But it is already clear that the hard, confrontational style of Ahmadinejad's governing should be changed to a more compromise one, oriented to negotiations and search for a mutually acceptable compromise

Whoever is elected President of the Islamic Republic of Iran in June 2013, it will be a politician who will significantly differ from both, Khatami and Ahmadinejad. And the main reason will be that the Islamic Republic of Iran today is a completely different country than it was in 1997 and even in 2005.

Iran of today is actually the only regional superpower of the Middle East. Tehran has convincingly demonstrated this, as it has managed to effectively counter the United States for nearly 35 years.

As the most influential force in the region, Iran is able to build and strengthen its regional sphere of influence. Moreover, the current events in Syria showed, Iran is able to change the regional balance of power in its favor, even in seemingly most adverse conditions. The Islamic Republic of Iran has powerful global partners such as Russia and China, as to such partnerships they are pushed by their mutual strategic interests.  

The new president of Iran must be an experienced and tough negotiator. But at this, he still needs support of the main power structures of the IRI.  

The West, and especially the United States, have to be prepared for a new phase in relations with Iran. And not because Obama and his team suddenly began to love Islamic revolutionaries from Tehran. In politics at all times only the strong had been and are respected. The Islamic Republic of Iran has just proved its national strength and durability to withstand an external force.