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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs