Iran is about to have elections. In the wake of Ayatollah Khamenei’s cancer diagnosis, how can these elections influence the future of Iran?

Photo Credit: Channel 2 News

While most of the Israeli media is not covering it, the Iranian elections are set to take place within the next couple of months. According to various Iranian sources, this election is an important one due to the deteriorated health and age of Ayatollah Khamenei and the election of the Council of Experts this year, who will have the power to select the next Iranian Ayatollah. In honor of the occasion, JerusalemOnline interviewed Iranian human rights activist Shabnam Assadollahi, Iranian journalist Reza Parchizadeh, Iranian journalist Mohsen Behzad Karimi, Iranian dissident Afshim Jam, and Iranian dissident Dr. Avideh Motmean-Far.

Iranian human rights activist Shabnam Assadollahi also does not think that Ayatollah Khamenei’s cancer diagnosis will affect the elections: “Khamenei has been ill for years so the likelihood of any changes because of that is very slim.” Afshim Jam added: “Khamenei’s prostate cancer was a PR tool to draw away attention as well as to gauge people’s reaction, positive and negative. I do not think people care about his health. The removal of cancerous prostate is a common procedure and generally it is not a life threatening.” According to Avideh Motmean-Far, “The supreme leader’s cancer has been diagnosed a while ago and I believe that it is not a ruse but it is used often as a ruse to dupe Iranians and the world powers into thinking that he is going to die and then the situation will change for the better in Iran.”

However, Mohsen Behzad Karimi has a different take on the issue: “What is happening is that election this year is for the Parliament and the Council of Experts. This years’ election is like the life and death of the regime. Khamenei has cancer and is above 80. For 32 years, the Council of Experts had no job. It was not important for Khamenei was young and chose. Now, with the sickness of Khamenei, the new council will be elected. Khamenei is going to be dead in the next eight years. The Council of Experts has the duty of finding the next leader. It is like a Council of Bishops who is going to choose the new Pope. The same is happening in Iran. The regime is stepping into the new era and they need a new generation of people that belong to their beliefs, the sons of those that are in power. For this reason, this upcoming election is very important. Rafsanjani has his own coalition. There is a fight between Rafsanjani and Rouhani and Khamenei and the hardliners. These people are trying to gain ground in the future by having a leader among themselves.”

“The IRGC has its own army, its own navy and its air force,” Karami explained. “It is a military within a military. This Revolutionary Guard has every function of an army and is more powerful than the army. It listens only to Khamenei. They don’t get orders from ministers and presidents. The question is after Khamenei, who will take their own orders from them? If there is a Panel of Experts that gets chosen by the so-called Reformists and the so-called Reformists are going to choose a new leader after his death, they are going to choose a so-called reformer, someone more lenient. The Revolutionary Guard is not going to tolerate it. They are going to fight it from now. They won’t let them get seats on the Panel of Experts for they for sure will choose a leader among themselves. It is a matter of power. None of them are better than any other. The name Reformist is just a brand. There is no Reforms. They haven’t done any reforms or crossed the red lines. For us, they are only a brand. It is now a power seeking fight among the two parties of the regimes. Basically, now there are two parties engaged in this fight. But if it gets harder, the Revolutionary Guard will join this fight. If the hardliners lose ground to the so-called Reformists, they are for sure going to set up a coup. This time there is a going to be a coup that results in a military dictatorship.”

However, many other Iranian sources stress that Iran is already a military dictatorship and that the power struggle between the Reformists and Hardliners is meaningless. Rafshin Jam noted that the elections are only used to give legitimacy to the regime, don’t affect the future of the country, and that is why Iranian Opposition groups abroad urge people not to vote. Avideh Motmean-Far added: “It is all about the legitimacy that this regime want to buy for itself that we have a so called election in Iran. If the elections truly changed anything, as a rule of thumb, a totalitarian regime would not allow any election to happen. It has always been about telling the world that Iranian people want the Islamic Republic because they participate in elections.”

According to Reza Parchizadeh, “What you call the militants already hold all the country in their power. In other words, Iran already is a military dictatorship. The IRGC is everywhere and it does everything. However, it does not look so to you – and to many others, for that matter – because you, as a foreigner, are not well-aware of the workings of the system. That I think also holds true about many Iranians who do not closely follow the politics of the Islamic Republic.” Afshin Jam added: “As long as Khamenei stays in power, there should not be any disagreement in the end. Whatever he wishes, that will be the order of the day. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a military dictatorship with the difference that the clergy comes with cloaks and turbans rather than military uniforms.”

According to Iranian human rights activist Shabnam Assadollahi, “Article 28 of the Parliamentary Election Law requires the candidates to have ‘practical belief in the Islamic faith and the sacred order of the Islamic Republic of Iran.’ The same article demands of the candidates a ‘declaration of loyalty to the progressive principle of the absolute rule of the Jurisconsult and to the Constitution.’ The Guardian Council has used both of these requirements to disqualify candidates. How can anyone be able to speak about the people’s right to self-governance when people holding viewpoints critical of the government are excluded from participating in the executive and legislative decision-making process?”

“Western powers and their mainstream media have given publicity to the Reformist wing of the Islamic regime in Iran by avoiding and fading out the significant role of Iran’s Islamic/Sharia Law abiding constitution,” Assadollahi added. “The constitution of this criminal regime is based on Sharia Law which is anti-human rights, anti-women, anti-freedom and anti-democracy… Provisions of Article 28 prevent people from having their candidates compete in the elections. The right to become a candidate is restricted to those who hold political viewpoints similar to those of the Guardian Council. Iranian election laws require that the candidates for the Parliament declare their loyalty to the religious doctrine of the absolute rule of the Jurisconsult [velayat faqih motlaqeh], a Shi`a doctrine that underpins Iran’s system of government. It espouses a system of governance in which a religious leader [faqih] is the highest authority, the Supreme Leader. The true reformers and those who desire regime change are wasting away in the regime’s dungeons.”

“Please note that it’s been reported by various sources inside Iran that satellites have been downed in Iran by the regime so they could prevent Iranians from being informed about the elections news and would not be able to watch the debates by Iranian political analysts and activists in the Persian Diaspora,” Assadollahi emphasized. “As it is practice of the Iranian regime which has been going on for 37 years, the IRGC and Basij do this now because of the elections but as soon as it’s done, it’ll start all over again. The Iranian regime also collects the satellite dishes from the people’s rooftops, so the regime can re- sell the IRGC’s newly imported dishes where people buy them in the black market by the plain-cloth IRGC thugs. Iranians purchase the new satellite dishes once every few years and the regimes’ game on satellite business continues.”

However, Karami does not deny the authoritarian nature of the Iranian regime; he merely believes that it is divided into two parts and that this election could prompt it to be only one part: “After more than a decade, they are a shadow position of the Iranian government themselves. They are following a Russian model to control the opposition. They created a fake opposition of themselves while the basic idea behind this is to divert the conflict from the real opposition abroad and move the attention to what is happening with the so-called Reformists and Hardliners. The real opposition that is outside of Iran became isolated over the past decade due to this strategy. They create a fake opposition of themselves which is agreed upon by the Hardliners and they never cross the red lines of the regime but they divert the attention of the people from the real opposition and also for the international community. For the last decade, the international community paid more attention to the so-called Reformists than the real opposition so they were isolated by this strategy.”

“They have a lot fake propaganda fights which feeds the news and satellite tv and journalists but no one can say for sure if there is a real difference between them or not,” Khatami related. “We cannot say for sure if these difficulties they have each other if there is a real difference but we have a doubt for many years that this is like puppet masters within the regime putting on shows for the international community to show some sort of democracy but there is no real democracy in Iran.” According to Reza Parchizadeh, “The supposedly bicameral system was devised and promoted by the regime-affiliated media in order to create the illusion that the ruling system in Iran is democratic and that there is room for change in the system. Whenever the regime goes too far in its real intentions and whenever the world community puts the regime under pressure for its crimes, the Islamic Republic just changes face by bringing forward those so-called Reformists, who in effect only promote the goals of the regime in a moderate way until the propitious moment arrives again for the regime’s saber rattling and warmongering.”

Given that the so-called Iranian Reformers are not really interested in Reform, the prospects for a real change for the better in Iran appear slim. “There will never be a true reform in Islamic Republic as long as the regime with existing players are in power and are enforcing Sharia Law , and their own interpretation of the Quran,” Afshin Jam stressed. “No matter who takes the majority in upcoming parliamentarian election, there are others who have the upper hands to accept, reject or adjust the legislations. Even if any so called Reformist bill passes through, there are always regime’s hooligans who overturns or stop anything that is against their will, liking or their interest.” Afshin Jam noted that the Iranian people are suffering greatly and that this could be a cause for revolt but the issue is that the people are scared and tired of sacrificing their lives unless there will be a great incident that will pressure them to go out onto the streets.

“A few Iranian Canadians who recently traveled to Iran have also told me that after the 2009 unrest which resulted in the arrest of thousands of Iranians and executions of hundreds, the nation is less interested in change in Iran,” Assadollahi stressed. “They believe that President Obama and the 5+1 have intentionally allowed the mullahs to stay in power for their own interests and benefits and there won’t be any chance for a self-starting second revolution. Iranians are also so afraid of a breakout of another Iran-Iraq type war and are horrified about the unrest in the Middle East and that they cannot afford more poverty and death especially with the presence of the ISIS and Taliban in the area and the regime’s significant power in the region given by the US and Russia. My sources also mentioned that Islamic covering (hijab) is so relaxed in Iran that the people really became ignorant about their basic rights so they prefer to continue to be oppressed by the Islamic regime than having a tragedy like in Iraq or Syria.”