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Iran: A preview of Iran’s 2013 election rivalries



At the Iranian Parliament on Sunday, 3 February 2013, the dramatic exchange of accusations between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was no isolated incident.

It was one of the starkest illustrations yet of the fierce political rivalries raging in Iran, not only between the fundamentalist and reformist camps, but within the deeply fractured conservative bloc itself. Ahead of the 14 June presidential elections, these rivalries are sure to intensify.

On one side of the rivalry stands a president who, since assuming office, has pursued a course independent of the regime’s mainstream. He wants to preserve his legacy by naming his successor – a bid to ensure that “Nejadism” outlives him.

On the other side is a speaker of parliament who is seen as a leading prospective presidential candidate. He belongs to an influential family – his brother Mohammad Javad is among Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s most trusted advisors – that is to determined to thwart Ahmadinejad’s ambitions.

Political rivalries are not new to the Iranian scene. The system has proven that it has the mechanisms needed to manage them in a way that upholds Iran’s national interests, all the while accommodating various domestic players. This does not, of course, apply to “enemies” of the regime who oppose the Islamic Republic outright.

Iranian leaders are wary of the country’s Western detractors and their designs. They fear the domestic political arena being used to promote the schemes of regional or foreign powers that seek to weaken or strategically realign the Islamic Republic.

“The coming battle with the West will not be in Syria, Iraq, or Egypt or any other place... [it] will be inside Iran,” said one official.

The West’s perceived aim is not to secure victory for a president who would be more amenable to Western offers, as seen with pressure during the “Green Revolution” for Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s election. Instead, the West’s aim is to delegitimize the regime by arranging the biggest possible election boycott. The low turnout would then be portrayed as reflecting the general public’s opposition to the regime.

The regime is currently encouraging greater voter turnout and seeking to engage other political parties in the election, maintaining that the elections will be open to everyone, even the Los Angeles-based offshore opposition.

It’s too early to predict the candidates or assess their prospects, let alone forecast election results, but some of the battle-lines have already been drawn.

Ahmadinejad and his faction have engaged in an all-out battle to secure their objectives on every front. This has even led to lawsuits and the jailing of senior officials such as Ahmadinejad’s former media advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr. There is even talk of Ahmadinejad possibly teaming up with the reformists against the fundamentalist bloc during the elections – a course of action that might force the latter to unite behind a single candidate.

Reformist opposition leaders have been informed by the authorities that the arena is open to them, albeit under the auspices of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Rafsanjani’s position has weakened considerably in recent years as result of his quarrels with Ahmadinejad, who has used every means at his disposal to purge the state of his predecessors’ influence.

Rafsanjani’s sin was his involvement with the anti-regime campaign that was conducted during the last presidential election. Although the leadership dealt with him with gently on account of his long service to the revolution, his behavior provoked a rebuke from Ayatollah Khamenei.

Rafsanjani has been further damaged by legal actions taken against members of his entourage, including his son Mahdi, who was charged with corruption and inciting demonstrations, and his daughter Faiza, who was jailed for “publishing propaganda hostile to the state.”

Against this backdrop, Ahmadinejad caused an uproar some weeks ago when he demanded “fair and clean” elections in June. This triggered a furious media campaign that had commentators asking whether his own two election wins had been “clean and fair.”

The June election could prove historic, for three main reasons.

First, it comes at a crucial moment in the Islamic Republic’s long struggle with the West. The West has exhausted its means of confrontation and has only two left: to try to topple the regime from within, or to launch a war.

Second, it is being held in the midst of an unprecedented campaign of economic pressure and sanctions, the effects of have been worsened by mismanagement and domestic power-struggles. Some suggest that the key quality that will be sought in the next president will be economic competence.

Third, Ahmadinejad’s tenure has convinced the leadership that the constitution should be revised to turn the system of government into a fully parliamentary one, in which the president would be elected by the legislature and not, as now, by universal suffrage.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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