Omid Habibinia
Last updated: 17 April, 2013

Who will be Iran’s next president?

It is now just about two months left to another election in Iran and the seventh president takes Ahmadinejad’s place. But who will it be? asks Omid Habibinia.

As a result of the last presidential election drama, there is little social interest in this round, although tensions continue between the different political factions.

The registration will begin next month, but until now neither conservatives nor reformists have officially announced their primary candidates.

President Ahmadinejad is trying to stay in the political scene by presenting his son’s father in law, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, as a viable alternative. But the opposing wing of conservatives, who are now ruling the parliament through Ali Larijani and the judiciary through Sadegh Larijani, makes it hard for Ahmadinejad. When the president introduced Mashaei as the vice president after the previous election, Khamenei ordered him to withdraw the decision. After 10 days of resistance, Ahmadinejad had to succumb to the Supreme Leader.

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The pro-Larijanis wing, which is close to Khamenei, has its traditional supporters among Bazaris (who control the merchants in the country), clerics, and conservative political parties. As they are close to Khamenei they can also count on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRG) and Bassij, but their main problem is that they have not agreed on a suitable candidate yet.

In some regards, it is possible that Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser and the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister for sixteen years in the 80s and 90s, would be their perfect candidate. Some conservatives believe Velayati can manage the Islamic Republic’s international crisis, including the relationship with Washington, and unite the conservative wings. In their eyes, he might be the best one to obey Khamenei’s orders while at the same time guaranteeing their political and economical benefits.

In contrast, Ahmadinejad’s candidate has little chance to be recognized by the Guardian Council. Mashaei and Ahmadinejad’s aides have recently been labeled as deviants and accused of disobeying Khamenei. To put more pressure on them, the judiciary arrested and detained some of the president’s closest staff, including his press adviser and the head of the government news agency IRNA.

As Ahmadinejad has been searching for ways to attack the rival wing, the IRG – which sits on the biggest construction contracts inside the country as well as in Syria, Lebanon, some African countries, and Venezuela – decided to cut ties with the president. They paid a heavy price when killing dozens of civilians in the 2009 protest movement and were the main supporters of Ahmadinejad in the last two elections. Now, they have stepped over to the other side and voila – the end of the Ahmadinejad era.

However he still has a card to play; he can easily stir controversy by unveiling some secrets, which surprisingly he did last winter in an open hearing Parliament Session.

This Thursday, Ahmadinejad hosts a meeting in the Azadi stadium, seen by many as the start of Mashaei’s campaign. It brought a wave of objections; even the police chief said he would not support the event.

On the other side, the reformists’ only main candidate is Khatami, who is already called by conservatives as one of the rebel leaders. There is little chance that he wins qualification approval by the Guardian Council. Of course they might stop him before he announces his candidacy.

The main objective of the crackdown after the last election in 2009 was to eliminate reformists from power and also to attack all potential opponents such as workers, leftists, lawyers, filmmakers, journalists, and women. It is thus hard to imagine that after all efforts to wipe out reformists in the country, conservatives would decide to let them back in. The reformists also don’t have enough supporters among the middle class, as was the case in 2009, and have lost their links to the power sources and certain Bazaris who paid and defended them in the last presidential election.

In 2009, reformists had their hands tied; they couldn’t move with the people who chanted against the regime and Khamenei but instead called for rest and even voted in future elections. Surprisingly, they are now unable to attract supporters among reformists in exile abroad. The simple fact is that even mainstream Persian media outside Iran, which is ruled by reformists, refuse to be part of the conservative’s game.

Many presume that this election will have a low voter participation, and truly there are no great expectations. Yet, it is obvious that the regime may find ways to drag the middle class to the ballot box in order to verify its dried up legitimacy – the show must go on!

But for the people who are suffering from inflation, oppression, and strict Islamic rules, this show should head to the nearest democracy transit.

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