NCRI - 1. Why is the mullahs’ presidential "election" that is scheduled to be held on May 19 important?
The mullahs’ sham presidential election will be held on May 19. This election is taking place at a critical time that is rare in the history of the regime.
Three major factors form the calculations of Ali Khamenei, the regime's Supreme Leader, regarding who he will select as President:
• Internal factor: Fear of the uprising and repeat of the events of 2009 and desire to prevent similar events.
• International factor: Policy vis-à-vis the US. The question in front of Khamenei is that in dealing with the US, whether the regime intends to back off and accept other Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -nuclear deal type deals or to stand up even with the cost of a confrontation.
• Within the regime: The problem of succession in the supreme leadership. Although this issue is not publicly debated in the regime, it undoubtedly has a major effect on Khamenei’s decision as to who will be the President.
2. What is the election process and who can run?
The nature of elections in Iran is different from democratic countries. The Constitution denies the possibility of an election under recognized international standards. Article 91 outlines the formation of the “Guardian Council” (GC) which is comprised of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists appointed by head of Judiciary, who is appointed by the Supreme Leader.
Article 99 assigns the Guardian Council to supervise any election held in Iran.
Even those whose adherence to the regime is approved in the first set of screening by including by the Ministry of Intelligence will subsequently be vetted by the Guardian Council.
Election law stipulates that candidates must “believe and adhere to Islam and the sacred system of Islamic Republic in practice,” and “express loyalty to the Constitution and progressive principle of Velayat-e Faqhih” (or absolute rule of religious leader).
On October 5, 2015, Ahmad Janati, the Secretary of the GC went further and stated that belief and adherence must be “whole-hearted.”
Article 26 of the Constitution stipulates that political parties must not violates “Islamic laws” and Article 27 allows assembly and gathering only if “they do not violate Islamic principles and foundations.” Accordingly, no opposition group can exist within the country and as such no opposition is participating in the election. In other words, this is an election only within the regime and among those loyal to the system.
In 1991 the GC published its interpretation of its role regarding the elections by stating that “supervision mentioned in Article 90 of the Constitution is approbative and covers all stages of elections including approval or disqualification of the candidates.”
Therefore, even within the regime and among those who believe in the system and are loyal to the Supreme Leader, only those who can prove that their belief and conducts are whole-heartedly in line with the absolute rule of the Supreme Leader can participate in the election.
3. What does "elections" mean within the clerical regime?
As mentioned above, the first fact that should be considered is that the elections in Iran are neither free nor fair. Elections in the clerical regime is power sharing between various factions of the brutal regime of Velayat-e-Faqih. Total power remains in the hands of one mullah and elections have no resemblance to modern democratic society. In this regime, all the candidates pass through the Guardian Council. Half of the members of the Guardian Council are directly selected by the supreme leader and the other half are appointed by the Judiciary chief, who is himself appointed by the supreme leader. Anybody who has the slightest rift with the supreme leader’s system cannot possibly run.
The important reality is that, unlike other places where free or even semi-free elections are held, there is no opposition in the mullahs' elections. Elections are only meaningful when there is an opposition. In the clerical regime, the only ones able to participate in the elections are those who are part of the ruling circle, and both factions are part of the regime.
It is interesting that candidates in the upcoming election, including Hassan Rouhani and Ebrahim Raisi, are running with the approval of Khamenei. Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, Minister of Industry and Mining under the incumbent Rouhani, said on April 8: "One day Rouhani said in the cabinet ‘I discussed with Khamenei what is best to do? Should I come or not? He insisted that I should be present and I should be a candidate’. I am sure, if the Leader would have said “no, it is not good,” he would have accepted. Without explicit permission of the leader, he does not decide on major issues.”
On March 21, fifty mullahs of the Assembly of Experts sent a letter to Khamenei asking for approval of Raeisi’s candidacy and pointing out that Raeisi had said he would come to the scene only with Khamenei’s approval. Only after the approval of Khamenei did he announce his candidacy.
4. What is the scope of power and authority of the president in the mullahs' regime?
The Iranian president under the Velayat-e-Faqih system, should not be compared with the American or French President. Based on the constitution of the regime, much of the authorities and powers envisioned for the President in these countries, are among the powers of the supreme leader in Iran. One must note that the authority of the Supreme Leader is so absolute that the limited powers of the President as defined in the constitution can easily be overruled by the Supreme Leader. Any flow of state of affairs in the clerical regime is in the hands of Khamenei, his office, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force. Mohammad Khatami, the so-called moderate President of the regime between 1997 and 2005 said in the last years of his presidency that “we are just facilitators of the regime”.
5. The mullahs' regime is made up of different factions. What is the message of internal factions of the regime and what are their differences with each other?
The presence of two or more factions within the regime in no way represents individuals or factions that represent different sectors of society as in Western countries. They are fascist and criminal gangs within the ruling leadership. The common point of these factions is that they all have been involved in terrorism abroad and killings inside Iran from the outset. What takes place in the so-called election is that they get into the infighting over their share of power and a greater share of the plundering of the people's property. Now that the regime is in a fragile state and faces social, regional and international crises, it is completely natural that the infighting within the regime has intensified and the crisis within the regime has deepened. Increased infighting is not due to two natures or two different thoughts. It is first of all a reflection of the failure of the regime in solving social problems and increased dissatisfaction. Differences are over how to save the regime from these crises. Each side tells the other side that continuation of this path leads to the fall of the regime.
6. What are the circumstances affecting the current presidential elections?
• First - A year and a half after the JCPOA, and despite a series of unjustified concessions from the US and the West that the regime received, it failed to solve any of its fundamental problems. Instead, by laying down a nuclear weapon, even temporarily, the regime in its entirety and Khamenei in particular were weakened and their internal crisis has been intensified. Capitalizing on the JCPOA, Rouhani wanted to consolidate his position in the regime. Yet despite the nuclear deal and despite all the illegitimate and unjustified concessions that Obama gave to the regime, the nuclear deal did not solve anything. As far as the Iranian people are concerned, they got no benefit from the JCPOA. Rouhani failed to fulfill any of the promises he made and there has been no improvement in economic and social terms. Thus, he is a totally failed element.
• Second – With Obama’s departure, the clerical regime lost major backing in the international scene and is completely aware that it has entered a new era, which makes it strongly concerned about the policies of the new government. Obama's regional strategy was based on a compromise with the regime, therefore with Obama’s departure, the clerical regime is particularly weakened in regional balance.
• Third - Complete transfer of thousands of PMOI/MEK members from Camp Liberty and Ashraf in Iraq to European countries shocked the regime. The regime failed, in spite of heavy investment and the use of all its means and resources, to massacre PMOI/MEK members or to force them to surrender, and this was a major blow to the regime. The presence of an organized resistance with widespread social roots within Iran is a major factor that the regime must seriously consider in its calculations.
• Fourth – The death of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on the one hand has weakened the regime in its entirety and on the other hand has left the Rouhani faction without support, giving Khamenei a freer hand to consolidate his rule.
7. What is Khamenei’s major concern and the regime's most important red line?
Khamenei's main red line is the uprising of the people. The regime officials have warned for months about the threat of such an uprising. In the clerical regime, organized fraud designed to bring the desired candidate from the ballot boxes is called "electoral engineering". Khamenei has the power of engineering the election to the extent that infighting of various factions do not lead to sparking an uprising. Internal analysis and evaluation of the regime is that if the uprising begins in spite of all the measures which the regime has applied for several years this time the regime will not be able to control it, and the repetition of scenes such as the 2009 uprising will seriously challenge the regime in its entirety.
8. Who are the two main candidates?
Ebrahim Raisi, has been in the judiciary since the beginning of the clerical regime, issuing death sentences. At the age of 18, he was assistant prosecutor and at 19, he was a prosecutor of the regime’s revolutionary courts. He was one of the officials on the death committee that implemented Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa for the massacre of PMOI/MEK members in 1988. In this massacre, 30,000 political prisoners were executed. Ali Hossein Montazeri, then Khomeini’s successor, met with Raeisi and the rest of the death commission 20 days after the start of the massacre and told them that these executions are the biggest crimes of the Islamic Republic. An audio recording of the meeting was released after 28 years. In it, Montzaeri talks about the execution of pregnant women and 15-year-old girls during the massacre. According to some reports, Raeisi was the most brutal and the cruelest person on the death committee. He was completely trusted by Khomeini for inhuman punishments, including amputations. He later said that anyone who protested during the 2009 uprising was Mohareb (at war with God) and should be executed. His highest credit in the regime is his brutality, particularly in the massacre of the opposition, chiefly the PMOI/MEK. Raeisi must be tried as someone who has the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity.
Hassan Rouhani has been in the decision making centers of the regime from the outset and has been directly involved in all of the crimes of the regime including repression, war and sending young kids and juveniles to the minefields. He admitted he was involved in the suppression of the popular uprising in 1999. He remained silent about the massacre of 1988 and over the years has shown no evidence suggesting distancing himself from it and thus has practically expressed his support. Three thousand people have been executed during his presidency, and he described the executions as the implementation of divine law. According to a UN report, the human rights situation deteriorated sharply during his presidency in various fields. In four years of his presidency, he repeatedly and explicitly supported Bashar al-Assad and the massacre of the Syrian people and the regime’s missile tests. Despite all claims about the economic recovery, despite the nuclear deal, the economic situation has been considerably in regress. And previous to holding the presidency, Rouhani admitted to deceive the West over the Iranian nuclear program. The difference between Rouhani and Raeisi is that he has combined brutality with deception.
9. What does Ebrahim Raisi’s candidacy mean and what message does it send?
As mentioned above, Khamenei brought forth Ebrahim Raisi as a presidential candidate after much consideration. This is in line with Khamenei trying to advance the line of contraction of the regime and implement his consolidated power, and to continue, as far as he can, policies involving the exportation of terrorism and fundamentalism, regional intervention, and repression, because he sees this as improving the chances of the regime’s survival. This process inevitably will intensify the differences within the regime during the elections.
10. What are the prospects?
Given the situation that the regime in its entirety is facing, Khamenei has no simple or cost-free choices. This has created an almost unprecedented situation with two tracks and two overall visions for the supreme leader:
• If Khamenei succeeds and can do the necessary engineering, getting Raeisi as the President, this regime will have much smaller base. Such a surgery will have defections from within the regime and increasing discontent. On the other hand the international community will know better than ever that reforms, moderation and regime change from within are absolutely a mirage.
• If Khamenei's engineering fails and for any reason he fails to make Raeisi president, the dispersion within the regime increases even more. Khamenei as the supreme leader will have been weakened and will be in a weaker position to choose a successor. On the other hand, his weakness causes escalation of the crisis between the factions over the division of power. At this point the absence of Rafsanjani becomes more obvious and dispersion peaks and the totality of the regime will face a major crisis.
11. How serious is Khamenei's succession issue?
Although this has been less of a public issue, the issue of succession has long been one of the main preoccupations of Khamenei. Not long ago, Mullah Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Assembly of Experts and the Friday prayer leader in Tehran, revealed that out of seven sessions of the Assembly of Experts, five sessions were about choosing the next leader. In these circumstances, it is vital for Khamenei to have someone from his own faction occupy the presidency. One of those whose name was sometimes mentioned is Raeisi. So if Khamenei fails in the election to get Raeisi out of the ballot boxes by electoral engineering, he will face more crises. Nevertheless, this is a serious dispute among the mullahs and its exposure causes the regime to face a crisis of survival.
12. What is the takeaway from all these factors?
The two candidates have no fundamental differences in terms of the policies of suppression, export of terrorism and fundamentalism, and looting people's properties, all of which constitute the foundations of this state. But the election itself is a crisis for the clerical regime and its outcome is the weakening of the regime. Since the regime in its entirety is in crisis and at an impasse, regardless of what direction the developments go, the regime will come out weaker in its entirety. If Khamenei can bring in Raeisi as President, his regime will be more consolidated. However, even though it will become more coherent internally, it will also be weaker and will face a lot of internal and external crises. But if the Supreme Leader fails to make Raeisi win, it will be a major blow to the prestige and reputation of Khamenei, and conflicts within the regime intensify.