This past week, Iran’s Interior Ministry began registering candidates for the sham presidential election that is set to take place on June 18.
Regime’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made headlines by formalizing his own bid to reclaim the position that he left in 2013. The 2013 election of so-called reformist Hassan Rouhani was described by some in the West as a victory for the “reformists” inside the regime.
A recent analysis indicates that the average annual number of executions in Iran was actually higher during the “reformist” Rouhani era than while “hardliner” Ahmadinejad was president. And the past eight years more than 4,000 executions do not even count the thousands of extrajudicial killings that have been brought about through torture, denial of medical care especially during the coronavirus pandemic, and direct attacks leading to death in absence of any arrest.
The worst of these latter incidents occurred in November 2019, when regime authorities immediately responded with lethal force to a nationwide uprising that featured slogans condemning both the “hardline” and the “reformist” establishment in nearly 200 cities and towns. In a matter of only days, security forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fatally shot around 1,500 protesters. Another 12,000 were arrested, and a report from Amnesty International later confirmed that many of them had been subjected to months of torture.
This incident took place under a “reformist” administration, and ironically all regime’s malign activities had taken place when a so-called reformist administration was in charge. In fact, 32 out of 42 years era of Islamic Republic all the administrations were so-called “reformist” administrations”; 8 years of Mousavi from 1981 to 1989, eight years of Rafsanjani from 1989 to 1997, eight years of Khatami 1997 to 2005, and eight years of Rouhani from 2013 to 2021.
In 1988 one of the greatest crimes of the century took place in Iran under the “reformist” administration of Mir Hossein Mousavi. Over the course of several months that year, as many as 30,000 political prisoners were executed in groups before being buried in secret mass graves. One of the leading figures in that massacre was Ebrahim Raisi, who was then Deputy Prosecutor for Tehran and was appointed in 2019 to head the federal judiciary. His attitudes about the suppression of dissent have not changed in the intervening 30 years, as evidenced by a June 2020 television interview in which he explicitly defended the legacy of the 1988 massacre, emphasizing the supposed infallibility of Khomeini’s pronouncement that there should be “no mercy” for members of opposition group the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
Rouhani’s legacy of brutality demonstrates what many have recognized since the earliest days of the Iranian regime: that the system is set up to prioritize loyalty to the supreme leader whether they pretend to be a “hardliner” or “reformists.”
In this sense, Iran’s elections are little more than an exercise in power-sharing among two factions with differing personal interests but no meaningful differences in policy or ideology. While it is true that more “reformists” have been excluded from the ballot this year, this only reflects a push to consolidate power in the face of challenges that are coming from well outside the political process.
One editorial in a state-run daily newspaper recently acknowledged that the main competition in this year’s election is not among the various candidates but rather between the leading candidates and a public that is intent upon expressing their disregard for the system as a whole.
The regime’s supreme leader prefers Raisi to become the nest president of the regime. That preference is no doubt based on Raisi’s history of brutality and his recent willingness, as judiciary chief, to deploy the same brutality against emerging challenges to the Iranian regime, especially those coming from the group, MEK, that Raisi targeted for mass execution in 1988. The Iranian people clearly recognize that MEK is their best source of hope for a democratic future, free of the mullahs’ rule. Meanwhile, the mullahs themselves are aware of the extent to which the public has rejected them, and they recognize that if they are to hold onto power, they must renew their efforts to stamp out the organized Resistance.
Whatever the exact outcome of next month’s election in Iran, the international community should anticipate unrest and human rights abuses to follow. And anyone who is interested in the prospect of Iranian democracy should be prepared to support the people who plan to boycott the regime’s sham elections.