News / Middle East

    Khamenei Mobilizes Loyalists to Swing Iran's Election

     Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) gestures in front of the shrine of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein ibn Ali at the Al-Hussein mosque, in old Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 5, 2013. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) gestures in front of the shrine of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein ibn Ali at the Al-Hussein mosque, in old Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 5, 2013.
    x
     Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) gestures in front of the shrine of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein ibn Ali at the Al-Hussein mosque, in old Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 5, 2013.
    Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) gestures in front of the shrine of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein ibn Ali at the Al-Hussein mosque, in old Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 5, 2013.
    Reuters
    Iran's supreme leader may have helped Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to win two presidential elections, but he is now bent on stopping his turbulent protege from levering his own man into the job.

    There was a time when even reformist presidents would defer to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic's clerical system. Ahmadinejad changed all that.

    Ahmadinejad's relentless quest for power and recognition has led him into direct confrontation with Khamenei, the man to whom he arguably owes his second term, if not his first.

    And as Iran's first non-clerical president since 1981, he has not stopped short of challenging the power of the clergy.

    Even though he cannot stand for a third term, Ahmadinejad is widely seen as determined to extend his influence by backing his former chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie for president.

    Khamenei loyalists accuse Mashaie of inspiring a 'deviant' trend that favors strong nationalism over clerical rule.

    "So magical is the political prowess attributed to Mashaie and Ahmadinejad's populist appeal that Mashaie's prospective candidacy causes much concern in the Khamenei camp,'' said Shaul Bakhash, professor at George Mason University in the United States, weighing prospects for the election in mid-June.

    Voters, preoccupied by bread-and-butter issues in an economy battered by Western sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear program, may only have conservatives from which to choose.

    Reformists are unlikely to get a look. Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who ran against Ahmadinejad in a 2009 election that they denounced as rigged, languish under house arrest.

    The reformist movement "has no organizational capacity and no recognised candidate right now," said Scott Lucas of EA worldview, a news website that monitors Iranian media.

    Closing ranks

    Iran's rulers, keen to avert any repeat of the mass protests and violence that shook Iran after the 2009 poll, will try to ensure that only obedient candidates pass the vetting process.

    And to block Mashaie or any other pro-Ahmadinejad candidate, Khamenei is turning to a three-man alliance of principalists - hardliners loyal to him - to unite behind one candidate to secure a quick and painless election win, say diplomats and analysts.

    The driving force behind this appears to be the supreme leader's foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati, who is one of the three possible contenders, along with Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and lawmaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel.

    "If principalists are divided... and the presidency is not in the hands of principalists in the future, we will have a tragedy," Velayati said last month. "From these three people one person will be introduced as a candidate, so we can finish the job in the first round."

    Analysts agree that Khamenei, deeply concerned about the election outcome, has given the nod to the initiative.

    "Ayatollah Khamenei has systematically and effectively concentrated both power and authority in his person. No one in Iran today can become president without his approval,'' said Ali Ansari, an Iran scholar at St Andrew's University in Scotland.

    Velayati appears to be leading a drive to eradicate Ahmadinejad's power and unite all principality's behind a single candidate - despite their own virulent political divisions.

    A U.S.-trained doctor who served as foreign minister for 16 years until 1997, Velayati is now regarded as one of Khamenei's most influential advisers, often deployed to carry out high-level initiatives on the leader's orders.

    Velayati's partners in the anti-Ahmadinejad alliance are established politicians, but less well known abroad.

    Haddad Adel is the father-in-law of Khamenei's third son, Mojtaba, the gate-keeper of access to the leader himself. An MP and former parliament speaker, he commands influence in the assembly and much respect for his academic credentials. His family ties to Khamenei have strengthened his position within the leader's inner circle, but have opened him up to accusations that he is little more than a pawn of the leader.

    The third member of the trio, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, is a former commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards [IRGC]. He is regarded as a pragmatist who "reaches out to more moderate conservatives," said Scott Lucas of EA World view.

    Popular, charismatic and boasting support from the Guards, Qalibaf's inclusion in the alliance may be intended to stifle any threat he might pose by running as an independent candidate.

    "He is too popular in his own right and may represent IRGC constituencies that the supreme leader is nervous about," said a European diplomat who focuses on Iran policy.

    Democratic veneer

    Khamenei can tighten his grip on the poll via the Guardian Council, which can veto candidates - although barring too many would risk destroying public interest in a vote which, however circumscribed, bolsters Iran's claims to democratic legitimacy.

    "Without these elections and high participation, even the pretence of democracy would fall apart," said Trita Parsi of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council.

    Allowing an Ahmadinejad-backed contender - or dark-horse independents - to run has risks, though, for the ruling establishment.

    "Ahmadinejad has shown he isn't going quietly," said the European diplomat. "The danger will be if his candidate doesn't get in amid voter fraud speculation - then we've got a 2009 situation, involving regime insiders."

    Tensions already are rising. Last month Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani - also a principalist - was pelted with shoes and stones by Ahmadinejad supporters in the holy city of Qom, where he had come to make a speech on the 34th anniversary of Iran's revolution.

    It was the latest skirmish in a personal feud that had exploded into public days earlier when the president accused Larijani's family of using its position for economic gain. Larijani's brother, Fazel, described Ahmadinejad's behavior as a conspiracy carried out by "Mafia-like individuals."

    Such public wrangling among Iran's conservative political elite is an embarrassment to the Supreme Leader.

    "Khamenei no longer seems able to impose discipline eve among his own lieutenants when it comes to those fierce political rivalries," said Bakhash.

    Among independents to throw their hats in the ring are former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaie, a losing candidate in 2009. Both are conservatives who could disrupt Velayati's campaign to close ranks for Khamenei and shut out any Ahmadinejad proxy.

    A president loyal to Khamenei might prove slightly less adversarial than Ahmadinejad in relations with the West, but would still be unlikely to accept a major nuclear compromise.

    "Since they are beholden to the supreme leader, I can't see  much change other than a reduction in some of the rhetoric," said Ansari of St Andrew's University. "Although this would help, at least on a superficial level."

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora