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Op-Ed: Moderate/Reformist Victory in Iranian Elections is a Shameless Lie

Iranian political theorist Reza Parchizadeh explains why the recent elections held within Iran were a sham to mislead the West and that in reality, these elections were anything but pro-Western as was widely reported within the Western media.
Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

The Islamic Republic of Iran held two “elections” simultaneously on February 26, 2016: Parliamentary elections and elections for the Assembly of Experts. According to Iranian state media and some Western media outlets, the coalition of “Moderate/Reformist” candidates, headed by the so-called “Moderate” Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rouhani, has won these elections by a landslide.

For instance, according to Reuters, “Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won a strong vote of confidence and reformist partners secured surprising gains in parliament in the early results from the elections that could speed up the Islamic Republic’s emergence from years of isolation. While advances by moderates and reformists in Friday’s polls were most evident in the capital city, where they won all of Tehran’s 30 seats according to the early results, the sheer scale of the gains there suggests a legislature more friendly to the pragmatist Rouhani has become a distinct possibility.”

As such, the outcome of Iran “elections” is being sold to the West as a pro-Western “Moderate/Reformist victory.” However, the truth is that these elections were the most shameless fraud that ever took place in the history of elections in Iran under the Islamic Republic. Here I am going to tell you the truth.

These elections, as ever, to use an Iranian term, were heavily “engineered.” Engineering was conducted on three levels: 1) Pre-election vetting of candidates, 2) Assorting of candidates during the voting, and 3) Announcing the popular turnout.

As for the pre-election vetting of candidates, the powerful Guardian Council already took care of that a while ago. While the Guardian Council, besides the Supreme Leader, is probably the single most influential factor in all sorts of elections in Iran, its role is usually “moderated” or totally overlooked by the pro-Hashemi/Rouhani media.

The Guardian Council is a very important legal institution that, as one of its many tasks, vets the candidates. The members of this “non-elective” legal institution are both directly and indirectly installed by the Supreme Leader and effectively controlled by him. Therefore, even before the voting began, the Guardian Council had “disqualified” not only the many major “Reformist/Moderate” nominees, but also all those who did not belong to any state-sponsored faction.

So the Hashemi/Rouhani faction, after losing many of its nominees in the vetting process, was forced to take in Conservatives – as well as second and third rate Reformists – so that it could run as a major “coalition” with an eye-cathing “list of candidates” for both the Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. As a result, those who went to the Parliament and the Assembly on the Moderate/Reformist ticket were in fact generally conservatives or even ultraconservatives.

This is most conspicuous in the case of the Moderate/Reformist coalition for the Assembly of Experts, where the candidates included such ultraconservative clerics as Mohammad Emami-Kashani, Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, Mohammad Reyshahri, and Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, all apparently pillars of the Supreme Leader’s rule. In fact, a number of them were nominated and supported by both the “Conservatives” and the “Moderates/Reformists.”

Reyshahri used to be the Minister of Intelligence in the cabinet of Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and was later chief prosecutor of the Special Court for the Clergy that meted out harsh punishment on any cleric who did not act along the lines of the official doctrine of the regime, the Guardianship of the Jurist. Reyshahri was also the man behind the mass execution of Iranian dissidents back in the 1980’s.

Dorri was also the Minister of Intelligence under President Mohammad Khatami in the late 1990s. During his term, the so-called “Chain Murders” where many dissenting Iranian intellectuals were systematically and brutally murdered by the state took place. The irony is, back then the Reformists, notably Akbar Ganji, scandalized Dorri as being one of the major figures behind Chain Murders. Now they are making a coalition with him and call him Moderate/Reformist.

As for the assorting of candidates during the voting, a number of senior so-called “Hardliners” on the Conservative ticket, such as Mohammad Yazdi and Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, were not “elected.” That was in order to showcase the “Moderate/Reformist victory,” especially for those who voted for the Moderate/Reformist coalition to think that their vote really counts. As it happens, Yazdi is already on the Guardian Council and Mesbah Yazdi is one of the main theorists of the Iranian regime with a powerful base. They are also both on the outgoing Assembly of Experts.

As for announcing the popular turnout, at first the Iranian government and the official state media lavished accolades on the “elections” as the most popular in the history of the Islamic Republic so far. Then, in the face of emerging independent reports, pictures and documents, they issued a series of contradictory announcements regarding the results. Finally, they settled for 62% participation.

This is while the many reports and pictures by people and citizen-journalists from all over Iran show that in reality only few bothered to attend the polls. Although this can’t be independently corroborated due to obvious difficulties, the estimate is something around 15% participation. In the meantime, films showing unrest in different parts of Iran also emerged. Obviously, the Iranian citizens are not happy at all.

In the past regarding these three levels of engineering, what is of utmost importance here is that we know in Iran the dynamics of power are such that only little leverage lies in the tripartite division of the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Instead, real power is concentrated in the hands of the Supreme Leader, his faction, and the Revolutionary Guards. All the same, even if we regard the Parliament as a genuine institution with real power, the Hashemi/Rouhani faction has only obtained a small fraction of its seats.

The same holds true for the Assembly of Experts. Much has been advertised about the role and power of the Assembly of Experts in electing the next Supreme Leader. However, historical precedent indicates that the issue of “electing” the Supreme Leader is typically settled out of the assembly and only announced there. To clarify, the Assembly of Experts has only once in its lifetime announced the Next Supreme Leader. It happened on June 4, 1989, after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Meshkini (1922–2007) was head of the assembly back then. However, on the most historic day in the life of this assembly, its head somehow became absent due to some “indisposition.”

As a result, it was the same Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, then Speaker of Parliament and one of the two most powerful allies of Ali Khamenei – besides Khomeni’s son, Ahmad – who, in an act blatantly overriding his jurisdiction as Speaker of Parliament, chaired the Assembly of Experts and directed its vote in favor of Khamenei’s leadership and not Meshkini, who was obviously against Khamenei’s leadership back then – nor any of the so-called “experts.”

Now, we are a long way from those days and Hashemi has long been divested of most of his power in Iran. Therefore, even if the Hashemi/Rouhani faction got to the assembly and even if it obtained the majority – which did not happen because it had been rendered impossible in the first place, it did not mean that they would be the ones to “elect” the next Supreme Leader. That will be for the Khamenei faction and the IRGC to decide.

As such, the whole process of these “elections” seems to have been part of a deal between the Hashemi/Rouhani faction and the Supreme Leader to mislead the West and especially to conciliate the Obama Administration over the lie that the so-called Moderate/Reformist tendency is strong in Iran. This is crucial for keeping in place the controversial Nuclear Deal as well as newly-acquired international economic contracts.

In the end, it can be seen that it is the Reformists themselves who, after almost two decades of struggling to “reform” the system, have been “reformed” by the system and not vice versa. That is probably why they can comfortably call Reyshahri and Dorri and their ilk “Reformist” and embrace them as coalitionist. As it seems, the ever-monolithic Islamic Republic is “whole” once again, both in substance and appearance: “Reformism” has come full circle in Iran.

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