Although Iran’s sham presidential election is not for another two weeks, it is generally understood that the mullahs’ next president will be the current judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi. In May, the regime’s Guardian Council announced that Raisi would be one of only seven candidates permitted to stand for election, out of nearly 600 who had initially registered. The other six are comparatively minor figures. Their selection was intended to create the illusion of choice in a process that is actually intended to simply install the supreme leader’s choice to serve as the country’s second-highest official.
Ali Khamenei’s clear preference for a future Raisi administration is part of his policy to consolidate power in his regime. In 2019, Raisi took control of the judiciary so Khamenei could implement his oppressive measures against Iran’s restive society. Khamenei personally appointed him to the position and thereby made him potentially responsible for replacing any of the six judges who serve on the Guardian Council alongside six clerics appointed by Khamenei directly.
Regardless of the relationship between the regime’s judiciary chief and the Guardian Council, that latter institution is specifically tasked with vetting all candidates for high office based on criteria that include their loyalty to the supreme leader and their adherence to the regime’s fundamentalist brand of Islam. That being the case, it is practically unthinkable that the Guardian Council would fail to approve a candidate who, like Raisi, has received Khamenei’s unequivocal backing. It is also extremely unlikely that it would leave in place any serious obstacles to his candidacy, and this is no doubt why high-profile figures like the regime’s former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani were barred from running this year.
It was well within the power of the Guardian Council to clear Raisi’s path to the presidency during the 2017 election, and Khamenei’s preference for him had already been rather clearly established by that time. But since this action could have sparked popular unrest akin to that which accompanied the disputed reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. In other words, Khamenei knew that any rift at the top of the regime would result in another uprising.
Since Rouhani was selected as president, some of Iran’s social situation has grown worse, including restrictions on women’s rights and the country’s already world-leading rate of executions.
Four more years later, and little has changed. Although Rouhani was embraced in some Western policy circles as a potential harbinger of serious reform, as the Iranian Resistance has long asserted, there are no such reforms in the regime because the theocratic system barred them and Rouhani, as one of the regime’s top officials involved in 40 years of oppression was not a reformist. Because the regime has barred the candidacy of any individual who seriously advocated for reform.
Rouhani, like every other mainstream candidate to seek office since the 1979 revolution, was a dyed-in-the-wool regime insider with a demonstrated track record of loyalty to the supreme leader. Yet, due to Raisi’s darker record, which could have sparked more protests, Khamenei was forced to select Rouhani.
In the month immediately preceding Raisi’s initial run for the presidency, there was a dramatic growth in public awareness of his role in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, and it, therefore, became clear that Khamenei’s endorsement of him was an invitation for regime authorities to place greater emphasis on violent repression.
In 1988, the regime’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa declaring opponents of the theocratic system – particularly members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK)– were guilty of “enmity against God” and thus subject to summary execution. As a result, officials throughout the country assembled bodies that came to be known as “death commissions” and tasked them with interrogating political prisoners over their political views and affiliations in order to determine who still cares for Iran’s future as a democratic country. Over the course of several months, 30,000 people were killed in this fashion, and Raisi, as a contributor to the main death commission in Tehran, bore responsibility for many if not most of them.
The Iranian people have grown not to support the lesser of two evils only to have “reformist” officials confirm that their faction is inappropriately named and that they are involved in human rights violations and terrorism.
This sentiment found a widespread outlet in the form of a nationwide uprising just a few months after the 2017 election. In January 2018, residents of well over 100 cities and towns joined in chanting slogans that condemned both Khamenei and Rouhani, as well as calling out to both of their factions and declaring that “the game” of political power-sharing “is over.” Facing virtually unprecedented, direct challenges to his rule, the supreme leader was ultimately forced to acknowledge that that unrest was largely organized by the MEK and its parent coalition, the NCRI.
There was a much larger uprising in November 2019, which met the regime’s violent crackdown, aspects of which had been led by Raisi. Finally, in February 2020, the wholesale rejection of the clerical regime found a new outlet when parliamentary elections received the lowest voter turnout in the regime’s history.
Now, even the state media are warning that that record could be broken by a boycott of the regime’s sham presidential election, which Resistance activists are eagerly promoting. Next month, the NCRI will highlight the rationale and the impact of that boycott for an international audience when the annual gathering of Iranian expatriates and supporters of a free Iran occurs on July 10-12. If that impact includes a resurgence of nationwide unrest, as many expect it will, the event will be a prime opportunity to discuss the way forward – both for the Iranian people and Western powers – in the event that protests finally lead to the overthrow of the clerical regime.