Iran election: Not a victory for progressives

rowhani

On Friday June 14, Iranians voted in large numbers for ayatollah Hassan Rowhani, a regime insider who was elected as Iran’s president with 50.71% of the vote. A centrist, not a ‘reformist’, he became the candidate of an unofficial coalition between ‘reformists’ and ‘centrists’ forged three days before the vote, after green leader and former president Mohammad Khatami asked the ‘reformist’ candidate, Mohammad Reza Aref, to withdraw from the elections.

Rowhani won not because of who he is, but as a result of a massive protest vote against the candidates associated with various ‘principlist’ factions of Iran’s Islamic regime. Iranians opted once more to use the electoral system to show their hatred for the conservatives and principlists who have been in power for the last eight years. These groups promised ‘social justice’ and a clampdown on corruption in 2005 and 2009, yet the gap between the rich and the poor is far wider than when they took office and corruption now engulfs every institution of the state. Nor is it surprising that the people blame them for the sanctions and Iran’s disastrous economic position.

This was a vote for the least worst candidate. And in desperation the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is now ready to compromise with the centrist factions of the Islamic regime. Last week former ‘reformist’ president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was not accepted as a candidate this time round, warned that Khamenei must wake up to the realities of Iran’s current situation. Whether because of this, or out of a concern that after a lacklustre electoral campaign turnout would be low, Khamenei intervened forcefully to encourage people to vote. Even those who “do not support the Islamic system” should come out and vote for the sake of the country, he said. That was an historic first – Iran’s top religious leader has never previously addressed opponents of the Islamic Republic in this manner.

In the last week of the campaign Khamenei went out of his way to emphasise that no-one around him knew his personal choice and, as far as he was concerned, all six candidates on the ballot paper were acceptable. Saeed Jalili, and to a certain extent Ali Akbar Velayati, had been touted as the leader’s favourites by their respective campaign offices. Khamenei’s statement meant that no cleric could whisper at a religious meeting or in a mosque that, although this was a ‘free vote’, the supreme leader had a particular candidate in mind. On election day itself, at many voting stations outside Iran in consulates or offices set up by the government, women were allowed to vote without wearing the compulsory headscarf. Even inside the country some women wearing only symbolic head cover rather than a proper hijab were allowed into voting stations.

However, the question on everyone’s mind is if the supreme leader and his close advisors were going to allow a centrist president, why was Rafsanjani barred from standing? One explanation is that he would have presented more of a challenge to the supreme leader, while Rowhani is less of a threat.

Then there is the issue of the vote itself. One thing is clear: the conservatives were so confident that at least one conservative would get into the second round that they refused to rally around a single candidate. Iranians have taught them a lesson and the recriminations have only just started.

Suspicious

Having said that, the way the results were announced by the ministry of interior raised questions. A psephologist or polling statistician would have been seriously concerned. The share of the vote for each candidate remained more or less static from the announcement of the first result in the morning through to the final declaration in the evening. Rowhani was standing at between 50.01% and 50.9%, while the tally for Mohammad Qalibaf in second place hovered between 15.77% and 15.9%. There was a similar standard deviation for the other five candidates.1 Yet the results were declared region by region, some from rural areas, others from cities. It was highly suspicious that there was so little variation – surely the percentage after each announcement should have vacillated far more, especially following the early results. I am sure that if any of the conservatives had won the ‘reformists’ would have accused the ministry of interior of cheating on the basis of these virtually unchanging percentages. That is what they did after the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

I asked a reputed mathematician what he thought. “You don’t need to be an expert”, he told me, “to see that such stable figures stink. I have never seen anything like this in real elections. This is very unlikely, since I am pretty certain that the later sample is from a different part of the country, with a different political profile, than the earlier sample. If all the samples, early and late, came from areas with a similar profile, then the figures would be more believable.”

Let me emphasise that I am not saying Rowhani would not have won and that he would not have finished well above the runner-up, Qalibaf, who lost a lot of support after the final pre-election debate. However, a fraction over 50% is very convenient for the supreme leader. This way the country is seen as divided 50-50 between principlists and centrists/‘reformists’, the authorities are happy and the people are ecstatic – indeed there were major celebrations, under the slogan, “We have taken back our vote”. This is a reference to the disputed 2009 elections, when ‘reformist’ Mir-Hossein Moussavi was thought to be well ahead, yet Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.

If this was referendum on the state’s intransigence regarding the nuclear issue and the economic consequences that followed, then there is little doubt that the conservatives lost. Most significantly, demonstrators celebrating in the streets of Tehran and other major cities saw this as a victory against the supreme leader. Slogans ranged from “Death to the dictator” and “Free all political prisoners” to “Bye bye, Ahmadi” and “Martyred brother, martyred sister, we got back your vote”. This was a reference not just to disputed elections of 2009, but to the repression that followed, when hundreds were killed in the streets or in prison.2

These slogans demonstrated a level of maturity. For example, the chant, “Rowhani, we will guide you”, spoke volumes. Large sections of the population do not trust the centrists or ‘reformists’ and, given the little breathing space they have gained, they are expressing the widely held view that factions of the regime are only pro-reform because the population, in its opposition to the entire regime, pushes them in that direction.

This election was a major setback for exile groups of the left and the right who had not expected the regime to be able to assert itself in such a skilful way. Many had pinned their hopes on western funds for regime change, and ‘Marxists’ have been among those who have accepted financial support from the US as well as rightwing governments in Canada and the Netherlands. Clearly, for all their efforts in organising the Iran Tribunal, ‘human rights’ commissions and so on, they seem to have been outmanoeuvred, thanks to a small concession from the supreme leader. Ironically the jubilation following the election of a centrist lacking the imprimatur of the supreme leader is being used to demonstrate the regime’s adaptability.

As I have said time and time again to former comrades deluded by western contributions to their NGOs, for all its talk of ‘human rights’, ‘women’s rights’ and latterly even ‘workers’ rights’, imperialism’s first choice in Iran will always be to reach a solution with the existing regime. If this election has one consequence, it will be a period of renewed ‘negotiations’ and a substantial reduction in regime change funds at least for the next few years, and that in itself is not a bad outcome. On the negative side it is easy to predict how, like Khatami and Rafsanjani, Rowhani will act like the grand old Duke of York, failing to live up to any of his promises, while buying time for the Islamic regime.

Who is Rowhani?

Unlike Khatami, Iran’s last ‘reformist’ president, Rowhani is very much an insider of the regime who has held crucial posts since 1979, including membership of the Assembly of Experts (the body which selects and oversees the role of the supreme leader) since 1999, the Expediency Council (the administrative assembly appointed by the supreme leader) since 1991, and the Supreme National Security Council since 1989. Throughout the last 21 years he has also held a semi-academic post as head of the Centre for Strategic Research.

After attending a religious seminary, he studied law at the University of Tehran, continuing his studies later in Glasgow Caledonian University where in 1995 he gained an MPhil (his thesis was entitled ‘The Islamic legislative power with reference to the Iranian experience’), and in 1999 a PhD. In Tehran there are rumours that he speaks English with a Scottish accent – one young blogger has been ending his posts with the phrase, “Beam me up, Scotty”.

Rowhani’s alleged involvement in Irangate during the Iran-Iraq war came about because he was a member of the Supreme Defence Council (1982-88) and deputy commander of the war (1983-85), a close ally of Rafsanjani and already part of a faction later labelled ‘moderates’. During the second term of Khatami’s presidency, Rowhani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, so it was no surprise that in an election campaign dominated by foreign policy, sanctions and their effect on the economy, he boasted about his skills as a negotiator. In one TV debate he said: “In my time we held talks with presidents and ministers” – it was Rowhani who invited Jack Straw to visit Iran, for instance. By comparison, his rival, Jalili, was reduced to talking to ‘managers’ and low-ranking officials.

Other candidates pointed out that, for all his desire for accommodation with the US, soon after he and Khatami supported western efforts in the Afghan war the Bush administration labelled Iran one of the axes of evil. During this time he was given the nickname, ‘diplomatic sheikh’, and he wrote his memoirs of the period in a book entitled National security and nuclear diplomacy. He will need all his diplomatic training to deal with the conservative-dominated majles (Islamic parliament) and the supreme leader.

Campaign

The presidential elections started badly. Iran’s supreme leader had fallen out with his chosen president, Ahmadinejad, in the first months of his second term and had considered abolishing the post of president altogether. However, he was advised against this, as such a move would produce constitutional complications, so Khamenei’s initial reaction was to reduce the importance of the post.

Those who watched with dismay the TV quiz show style of the first round of presidential debates could not help thinking this was a deliberate act to make a mockery of the elections. The first debate between the eight vetted candidates who had been given the nod by the Guardian Council was compared to a kindergarten game. The presidential hopefuls were asked to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to complicated questions about the economy and foreign policy. Many refused, and the whole thing descended into farce. The second debate was no better and it was only in the last debate, just days before the vote, that candidates were allowed to challenge their opponents directly. Clearly by that time the regime was trying to inject some life into the process and by all accounts Rowhani was the winner of that third TV debate. He opposed the regime’s intransigent stance on its nuclear industry and advocated negotiations to lift sanctions and improve the economy.

At a time of economic hardship and political isolation, slogans such as “Save Iran’s economy” and “Reconciliation with the world” made him a popular figure. Then there was: “I have always been against radicalism. I have always followed moderation”; and “I have never acted as if in a garrison”; and the slightly more obscure: “Centrifuges should spin, but so should industries and people’s livelihoods.”

He was not the only one mocking the approach of Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Jalili, to the 5+1 talks. Velayati, Qalibaf and Rezaii expressed similar views. Following the elections, Rowhani said that the nuclear enrichment programme would continue. However, there were “many ways to build trust” with the west, and it was important for Iran to show that “its activities fall within the framework of international rules”.

International reaction

Rowhani’s election has been cautiously welcomed by European countries, by the G8 and by most Middle Eastern countries with the exception of Israel. US president Barack Obama summed up the US position on June 18: “We may be able to move forward on a dialogue that allows us to resolve the problems with Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Having said that, any serious negotiation will face major obstacles. To start with, the current US-Iran conflict has two parties, so conciliatory noises from Iran alone will not lead to a resolution. At a time of economic crisis, the continuation of conflict with Iran has political as well as economic benefits for any US administration. Powerful voices in Washington, as well as in the pro-Israeli lobby, still want complete regime change, even a partition of Iran.

In addition there is the issue of Syria. Hours after the results were announced, the Syrian National Coalition called on Rowhani to review Iran’s support for the Assad regime. The “Coalition believes that it is its duty to call on the new president of Iran to rectify the mistakes made by the Iranian leadership.”

Rowhani is unlikely to oblige. Like the rest of the Shia clergy, he considers defending the current Syrian regime and Hezbollah an integral part of Iran’s foreign policy. While warning western powers against intervention, Iran has, of course intervened. Rowhani will face popular opposition over this, however. During Saturday’s celebrations crowds in Tehran and Kermanshah were shouting: “Leave Syria alone – deal with our problems”.

Coincidentally, on June 18, four days after the elections, Iran’s national football team defeated South Korea to qualify for the World Cup in 2014. This prompted further celebrations which quickly turned political in major cities. One of the main slogans was a call for the release of all political prisoners and an end to the house arrest of Moussavi and Karroubi. However, even if we accept claims made by some that Iran’s football win was linked to Rowhani’s victory, he will need to perform bigger miracles to get all Iran’s politician prisoners released.

On hearing the results of Iran’s elections, comrade Mike Macnair commented that after decades of repression and the terrible situation of the last few years, this could have the effect of a “crack in the dam”: ie, a trickle of concessions could lead to a flood. Revolutionary forces in Iran will certainly hope he is right, but the fear is that once more false hope generated by the promises of the centrist-‘reformist’ coalition will actually lengthen the life of the Islamic dictatorship. While there might be some relaxation in the interference of the religious state in the private lives of Iranians, poverty, unemployment, exploitation, the absence of basic workers’ rights, political repression – all look set to continue for the foreseeable future.

We are still a very long way from a resolution of the nuclear conflict and sanctions look likely to continue. Even if they were lifted tomorrow, it would take months, if not years, for the economy to return to some sort of normality. In the meantime, prices remain high and there is a serious shortage of basic foodstuffs and medicines.

The Iranian workers’ and democratic movement will continue to need international working class solidarity and we in Hands Off the People of Iran will do our utmost to show how this can be achieved.

yassamine.mather

Notes

1. All data from Iran’s ministry of information, reported at www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/06/15/309098/rohani-far-ahead-in-poll-results-so-far.

2. www.rahekarge.de 18 June 2013.

Iran: Boycott sham elections

 Yassamine Mather advocates a boycott and stresses the need for regime change from below

 

candidates

On May 22, the US moved closer to imposing a full trade embargo against Iran, as the Senate reaffirmed US support for Israel – should it be “compelled to attack Tehran’s nuclear programme in self-defence”.

The Senate voted unanimously to adopt a non-binding resolution urging Barack Obama to fully enforce existing economic sanctions against Iran and to “provide diplomatic, military and economic support” to Israel “in its defence of its territory, people and existence”.

On the same day the Republican-dominated foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives unanimously approved new proposals for sanctions. If passed into law, these would blacklist all countries or companies that fail to reduce their oil imports from Iran to virtually nil in the next 180 days. In other words, it aims to close off Iran’s main source of income.

All this is happening in the middle of an election farce in Tehran. A day before the Senate resolutions, Iran’s religious supervisory body, the Guardian Council, announced the final list of eight candidates it deemed acceptable to contest the presidential elections on June 14. It did not include either the former president and main hope of the ‘reformists’, Hashemi Rafsanjani, or the outgoing president’s chosen successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

Although the remaining candidates all promise to ‘resolve the nuclear issue’, the US administration has made up its mind: bar a miracle, conflict with Iran, most likely in the form of Israeli air attacks, is now inevitable. Even if one of the remaining centrist or ‘reformist’ candidates gets elected, Washington does not believe such an individual will be strong enough to convince the country’s supreme leader of the need to compromise. By all accounts, Rafsanjani was the only candidate capable of arguing the case for ayatollah Ali Khamenei to ‘drink the poison’ and make a U-turn either on the nuclear programme or on Syria.

Whoever gets elected on June 14, Iranians are resigning themselves to the fact that confrontation with the west will continue, and so crippling sanctions and devastating economic hardship will persist. The supreme leader had promised an ‘epic year’, when massive participation in the elections would prove the nation’s tenacity in confronting the foreign enemy. But the final list of mediocre candidates will make it difficult for even the most hard-line supporters of the regime to muster any enthusiasm.

No-one should underestimate the severity of the current situation. Iran is completely isolated internationally and regionally, while its support for the Syrian government has brought it into direct conflict with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Muslim Brotherhood, in addition to the usual suspects. Economically the country is bankrupt.

Life is getting excruciatingly hard for most Iranians – even some among the middle classes are finding the price of basic goods beyond their means, and one can only imagine the hardship faced by the increasingly unemployed working class.

When ‘targeted’ sanctions were proposed by the US, its supporters claimed only the rulers of the regime would suffer and ordinary Iranians would hardly notice the effects. Reality could not be further from this pledge. For example, in theory medicines were exempt from sanctions. However, the current rate of exchange means that many are beyond Iran’s means. In addition most pharmaceutical companies have stopped exporting to Iran. The consequence is that Iranians are dying because of acute shortage of medicine and surgical equipment – not to mention dangerous black market fakes and imitations. The US war against Iran has long started.

Candidates

Now that the TV debates and official campaigning have begun, all the candidates claim they will deal with the country’s economic problems. Speaking at an election conference at the University of Tehran, Ali Akbar Velayati, who is one of the supreme leader’s senior advisors, said if he wins the election he will prioritise the resolution of economic issues.

Mohsen Rezai, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, brags about a new system of “economic federalism”. He will “fight poverty and unemployment” by empowering the provinces to manage their own economy.1 Mohammad Qalibaf, who is appealing to the middle classes and the private sector, is defending “positive competition” and “better integration into the global economy” through “expertise-oriented” economic management.2

Ayatollah Khamenei keeps saying he has no favourite candidate – it must be difficult to choose from amongst all those trusted nominees. The final list of presidential candidates includes not only Velayati, but Haddad Adel, who is Khamenei’s son’s father-in-law, and two of Khamenei’s personal appointees to the Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili and Hassan Rohani. Qalibaf is a former police chief appointed by Khamenei, who is currently mayor of Tehran, while Rezai was the longest serving head of the Revolutionary Guards (1981-97).

All the presidential candidates except one, Jalili (ironically Iran’s main negotiator in the current talks with the 5+1 countries), claim they will resolve the nuclear issue. Jalili, who is said by some to be the supreme leader’s favourite and did his PhD thesis on “the foreign policy of the prophet Muhammad”, is himself a ‘living martyr’ (having lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq war) and his supporters’ slogan is: “No compromise. No submission. Only Jalili.” Clearly Iran’s chief negotiator is a master of diplomatic language, but at least Iranians now know why negotiations are going nowhere.

None of these candidates explain how, in the absence of a political solution and an end to sanctions, they will achieve the promised economic miracles. Iran cannot get payment for the limited oil it sells and the country’s banks have been excluded from the global banking system. Swift, which facilitates the majority of global payments, has disconnected Iranian financial firms from its messaging system. Food prices have gone up by 60% compared to last year, while factories are closing down every day, as transnationals move out of Iran (Peugeot, Saipa and Citroen have all closed down or reduced production); smaller service and spare parts suppliers are going bankrupt and do not pay their workers. The slogan dominating recent workers’ protests sums up the situation: “We are hungry”.

Of course, it would be wrong to blame all Iran’s economic problems on sanctions. For all the promises of moving away from a single-product economy, 34 years after the Islamic regime came into being, Iran remains a rentier state relying solely on oil exports. For many years Bank Markazi, Iran’s central bank, has used all the country’s income from oil exports to prop up the currency, the rial, causing hyperinflation, so it comes as no surprise that the oil embargo, combined with unprecedented increases in food prices, has brought Iran’s economy to its knees.

However, as I mentioned earlier, Iran’s economic problems are completely intertwined with its international political relations and here lies the problem.

Boycott

Of course any conflict has two sides and there are many reasons why the United States is committed to regime change in Iran: revenge for the overthrow of the shah, the US embassy hostage seizure, punishing a rogue state, the benefits of a rumbling conflict at a time of economic crises.

However, most Iranians, struggling to feed their families, are desperate to see the end of the current conflict and expect more from their ‘negotiators’. In this context it is understandable that sections of the Iranian opposition, mainly amongst the ‘reformist’ left, were tempted by Rafsanjani’s claims that he would start serious negotiations and ‘save the nation’. It is inevitable that sections of the population will ignore calls for a boycott of these elections and vote for Mohammad Aref or Hassan Rohani (the two remaining ‘reformists’). But ‘reformist’ leaders, including Rafsanjani and another former president, Mohammad Khatami, have yet to make up their mind if they will recommend a vote for any of the vetted candidates. They are considering running a poll amongst members/supporters of the green movement on whether they should stage a boycott.

There are a number of issues to consider when coming to that decision. First of all, there is no reason to believe that the US and its western allies would compromise. Supporters of participation would look pretty stupid if air raids or regime-change attempts happened under Aref or Rohani.

The second consideration relates to the left. Surely it would be completely compromised if it recommended voting for one of the above. This does not mean we should fall into the blind alley of always calling for a boycott when there is no working class candidate, irrespective of circumstances. The Bolsheviks debated and indeed participated in electoral processes where the choices were limited and the processes entirely undemocratic. However, choosing from amongst a religious dictator’s close advisors and nominees would certainly bring the left into disrepute.

The deteriorating situation has persuaded sections of the Iranian left to openly support regime change from above. In early May the Canadian government held a two-day ‘global dialogue conference’ at the University of Toronto, where foreign minister John Baird said: “The people of Iran deserve free and fair elections. Not another version of ayatollah Khamenei’s never-ending shell game of presidential puppets. Not the rise of a regressive clerical military dictatorship.”3 Also attending was Iran Tribunal prosecutor Payam Akhavan, who was quoted as saying: “Canada should continue to explore every avenue of assistance to civil society with a view to facilitating non-violent change.”4 Last weekend “republicans, leftists, constitutional monarchists and the green movement”5 joined forces to hold a two-day conference in Stockholm, at the invitation of the Swedish Democratic Party. They decided to form an umbrella organisation: United for Democracy in Iran.

In Hands Off the People of Iran we have always maintained that the Iranian people have to confront simultaneously two enemies: imperialism and their own rulers. Any compromise with either of these camps will tarnish the left and represent a betrayal of the interests of the working class. Adherence to this principle is as important today as it was in 2007, when Hopi was founded.

 

Notes

1. www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/05/28/305892/rezaei-to-turn-hormozgan-into-trade-zone.

2. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/iran-private-sector-options.html#ixzz2UVDbYjYa.

3. http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/05/10/john-baird-reaches-out-directly-to-iranians-encouraging-them-to-end-clerical-military-dictatorship; http://munkschool.utoronto.ca/blog/gdfi-opening-statement-from-john-baird.

4. www2.macleans.ca/2013/05/28/the-islamic-republic-of-gangster-capitalism-payam-akhavan-on-iran.

5. The Guardian May 28

Iran: Election farce exposes regime’s crisis

The Iranian elections are a travesty

vote

Supporters and apologists of Iran’s Islamic Republic in Respect,1 Counterfire2 and the Socialist Workers Party3 have in the past told us that Iran is not a dictatorship. It has democratic elections to determine the president and the composition of its parliament …

The regime’s 11th presidential elections have demonstrated how far removed this is from reality. Having arrested and imprisoned all serious opposition, including the regime’s own ‘reformists’, the remaining factions, despite being at each other’s throats, are all agreed that only those candidates for president who completely uphold the line of the supreme leader may be permitted to stand. So not only has the favourite of outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, been barred. So too has the moderate centrist and former president, ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The omens were not good from the beginning. The supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had disowned his chosen candidate of 2009. Ahmadinejad, who came to power following a controversial vote in elections many Iranians believed to be rigged, is now considered an enemy. In fact, despite the careful vetting of candidates for this and other elected posts on religious grounds, as determined by the constitution, Iran’s clerical dictators, in the form of two supreme leaders, have ended up falling out with almost everyone who has occupied the presidency, beginning with ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who famously turned his back on the regime’s first president, Abulhassan Banisadr.

Rafsanjani, who was Khamenei’s first president, fell out with the supreme leader. So did Mohammad Khatami, a vetted, obedient servant of the regime – he was out of favour by the end of his first term and definitely an enemy by the end of his second. Last but not least, for all his earlier support for Ahmadinejad against leaders of the green ‘reformist’ movement, the supreme leader fell out with his chosen president in the first months of his second term and in the end it could hardly be any worse.

What is different this year is that the entire electoral process has become a joke even before the election campaign has started. Because Khamenei was determined to reduce electioneering from months to only three weeks, it was not until May 21, just 24 days before the polls, that Iranians got to know the final list of candidates. However, Khamenei had apparently been concerned that the absence of any known figure, never mind a controversial one, might lead to a lacklustre campaign and no doubt this played a part in the supreme leader’s quiet encouragement of Rafsanjani to enter the foray.

His candidacy was hailed by both ‘reformists’ and opponents of the regime as a sign of ‘hope’ – the ‘saviour’ had come out of retirement. Even sections of the left believed he was therefore worthy of critical support. No-one was clear about how exactly Rafsanjani would save the nation – except by lengthening the rule of the religious dictatorship, that is – but in the euphoria that followed his registration as a candidate, none of this mattered. In fact it could well be that the unprecedented support for Rafsanjani by sections of the ‘reformist’ opposition convinced the Guardian Council to rule him out of the electoral process.

Clerical cars

The Guardian Council is supposed to make its deliberations in private. However, while the vetting process was going on, one of its leading figures, ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, commented: “Iranians do not want to elect a president whose car is a Mercedes Benz” – the model Rafsanjani arrived in to register his candidacy.

Rafsanjani’s supporters hit back by arguing that Jannati’s own modern Peugeot is far more expensive than Rafsanjani’s old Mercedes. BBC Persian service produced a short video of the cars used by several of Iran’s Islamic rulers, which shows Khamenei himself getting out of a bullet-proof BMW. It should be pointed out that Iran’s supreme leader and his family are embroiled in a scandal regarding the BMW dealership in Iran.

The issue of luxury cars is a touchy subject for Shia rulers. When young Iranians were asked in a telephone and internet poll what they associated with the phrase, ‘Islamic clerics’, a considerable number said “Mercedes Benz” or “BMW” (although the sons of the ayatollahs have long since preferred Maseratis and Porsches).

Once the car issue became just too embarrassing, the Guardian Council changed its tactics and focussed instead on the question of age. A candidate over 75 was apparently too old to occupy the presidency and, had the council been aware that a 78-year-old would put himself forward, they would have introduced an age bar.

However, this too was easy to counter by Rafsanjani supporters and others. A TV station listed the age of the Islamic regime’s current and previous leaders, starting with Khomeini, who became head of state aged 81, and the current supreme leader, who is 73. Jannati is 87 – the same age as one of his senior colleagues on the Guardian Council, ayatollah Mahdavi Kani …

Rafsanjani’s daughter has informed the world’s press and media that on May 21 senior figures of the regime had been trying to persuade her father to withdraw his nomination. But he had refused, saying he could not “betray the people’s trust”. However, earlier that day, as the Guardian Council was preparing to make its final announcement, security forces moved into action. Supporters of Mashaei and Ahmadinejad were arrested as a “precautionary measure”, and the offices of a ‘reformist’ youth organisation were ransacked and closed down.

Then the daughter of the founder of the Islamic Republic, ayatollah Khomeini, issued an open letter to Khamenei, declaring that her father had considered Hashemi Rafsanjani to possess all the qualities necessary to be not just president, but supreme leader. This was the first time anyone had quoted Khomeini’s thoughts concerning a possible successor to himself and obviously implied a serious criticism of the current supreme leader.

Once it became clear that Mashaei had been barred, Ahmadinejad absurdly announced he would contest the decision by asking the supreme leader to intervene. Apparently Ahmadinejad was the only person who did not know that it was Khamenei’s decision to bar both Mashaei and Rafsanjani.

There is a big difference between electoral cheating, such as ballot-rigging (as happened in 2009) and barring a very senior cleric like Rafsanjani, the man who is considered alongside Khomeini as a founder of the Islamic regime, the man who played a crucial part in writing the constitution of the clerical state, who has been one of the regime’s most powerful figures. As many have commented in Tweets and on Facebook, the ayatollah who chairs the expediency convention – a body answerable to the supreme leader with supervisory powers over all branches of government – is not considered fit to run for president!

This whole farce says everything about the crisis gripping the Islamic regime. It is true that some of Rafsanjani’s supporters might now switch support to a lesser known ‘reformist’, Mohammad Aref, or the centrist, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, but this is now a doomed electoral process. In many ways the events of the last few days have shown how pinning one’s hopes on the pseudo-dictatorial electoral process in Iran was a disaster.

The US might have considered negotiations with Iran under a Rafsanjani presidency, but the Obama administration is unlikely to take seriously whoever wins from the remaining, vetted candidates, however conciliatory the tone of those candidates may be. Ayatollah Khamenei and his Guardian Council might end up regretting the path they have taken.

As for the Iranian working class, it has two enemies: imperialism and its own rulers. The latter are not only remote from ordinary people, but so very clearly engulfed in personal struggles for wealth and power. When it comes to the presidential elections, any tactic other than a boycott is tantamount to offering support to this retrograde, reactionary regime.

Yassamine Mather

Notes

1. George Galloway commends the 2009 Iran elections 2009: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qL3yhzV2wWU

2. Press TV interview with John Rees: www.counterfire.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4198&Itemid=81

3. See report of 2007 Stop the War Coalition conference: ‘Lies cannot stop imperialists’ Weekly Worker November 8 2007.