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

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Phone, Internet Surveillance

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid