Iran is set to hold two elections on March 1st. One is for the 290-seat Majlis, or the parliament, ostensibly the country’s main legislative chamber. The other is for the 88-seat Assembly of Experts (AE), the chamber made up of senior clerics whose most important function is to oversee the performance of the supreme leader and to choose his successor when the time comes.

Both elections would have been important, if the voting process was meaningful in Iran. It is not. Elections in the Islamic Republic are highly restricted and engineered to produce the veneer of political representation. Still, the elections on March 1st are set to break earlier records for pointlessness as voter turnout is anticipated to be at an all-time low.

And yet, there is significant symbolism around heightened absurdities of holding elections in Iran that the vast opposition to the Islamist rule could have utilized if it had any gameplan. So far, however, the broader opposition – both inside Iran and in the large Diaspora community – has failed to construct a gameplan to spin the upcoming mock elections into a moment to revitalize the bungling and yet immense opposition to the Islamist rule.
Khamenei’s gameplan

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who essentially decides who can run in Iran’s frivolous elections does not even bother with pretending to care about the public’s wishes. He has said it is every citizen’s duty to cast a ballot, expecting a historic low-turnout that would be embarrassing for him. However, instead of loosening his grip on the tight vetting of candidates, he is already pointing the finger at the external enemies, the likes of Western intelligence services, as the purported culprits behind low voter enthusiasm in Iran.

Despite the fact that even loyalists of the regime keep daily reminding Khamenei – via interviews and commentary published in the state-run media – that an election without any real political competition is a waste of money and an insult to the intelligence of the Iranian people.

Since 1979, mass disqualifications have been the norm when candidates seek to run for elected office in the Islamic Republic. However, this time around even many senior veterans of the Islamist rule have been barred. Among the notable disqualified candidates is former president Hassan Rouhani, who insists he wants to know why he is suddenly no longer fit to serve in a regime he has toiled for since its inception 45 years ago.

Rouhani’s presidential predecessors, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mohammad Khatami, which together occupied the Presidential Palace from 1997 to 2013 have not even attempted to register for the March 1st elections knowing that the door would be shut in their faces. In short, none of these men, and many other former senior regime figures, are trusted by the 84-year Khamenei who is busy paving the way for his succession process and is determined to have his ducks in a row.

The trend of recent months speaks for itself: any figure with a hypothetical ability to set up a political operation outside of Khamenei’s authorization is being marginalized. The Persian term used inside of Iran is “Khaales-Saazi”, best translated as to mean “purge.”
A fast-shrinking regime tent

Khamenei is an obstinate and a resentful man, but also one with a long historic memory and a plan for the future of the Islamic Republic. Rather than engaging in introspection and accepting responsibility for the dire state of affairs in Iran and the widespread public disillusionment, he doubles down and shifts blames onto others, ranging from perceived internal rivals to foreign opponents of his regime. However, for Khamenei, the likely twilight years of his nearly four-decade rule represent the worst possible time to waver from his longstanding uncompromising methods that have enabled him to maintain power for so long.

Khamenei, a man who became supreme leader in 1989, was among those Islamist revolutionary leaders that toppled Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (the Shah) back in 1979. The lesson that Khamenei and his fellow Islamist revolutionary leaders learned from that event is that the Shah showed indecision in the face of internal opposition and that became his undoing. Khamenei is evidently hellbent on not making the same mistake and to start exhibit willingness to compromise with his opponents. It is a gamble but one that Khamenei has presumably reached after considerable due diligence.

Take the case of keeping Rouhani out from the elections to the clerical Assembly of Experts. What is the prize Khamenei could be hoping to secure and what risks is he taking by barring his former old friend? Through his control over the Guardian Council, which has to approve all candidates and all-important legislation passed by the Majlis, Khamenei has longed sought to turn supposed elected assemblies into a symbolic rubber stamp. At this juncture, Khamenei’s succession plans become the most relevant.

For years there has been speculation that Khamenei wants his son, Mojtaba, to succeed him. If so, given that such a hereditary succession will be highly controversial, Khamenei has all the reason in the world to make sure the 88-members of the assembly do not stray from his wishes. Seen from this perspective, the choice of keeping Rouhani out of the assembly has much logic to it. And the likely risks associated with such a decision are limited. After all, Rouhani has a very little popular support base. He was elected president in 2013 and 2017 because he put on a moderate mantle but failed miserably to bring about any political reform during his 8 years as president.

In fact, the Iranian public remember Rouhani – not as a reformist – but as a man who was Khamenei’s special advisor for 16 full years before he became president. And now Khamenei sees Rouhani more as a liability than an asset and is, therefore, casting him aside. The Iranian public is thus hardly bothered. This is at most a fight inside the regime, but there is no evidence that voting in the Khamenei-controlled elections process can ever yield any meaningful reform. Pressure for political change in Iran is far more likely to come from the streets than from the ballot box.

As Iran prepares to hold what is guaranteed to be sham elections – with no real choice as the vetted candidates will stand for nothing but subservience to Khamenei and everything his wishes has inflicted on Iran since he took over in 1989 – the massive drop in the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic is beyond doubt. This has become such a basic fact that it is repeated daily on Iranian regime television. The trouble is that regime pundits have no one else to blame these days without daring to openly criticize Khamenei. In reality, Khamenei and his foot-soldiers control every lever of power and continue to enact domestic and foreign policies detached from the wishes of the Iranian people. No wonder the Iranian people are no longer prepared to be taken for fools.

Source » irannewsupdate