In the Persian puppet theater known as Shah Selim Bazi, tragicomic tales of court intrigue gave audiences a glimpse into the mind of their ruler and the workings of his administration. Behind the screen, the strings were pulled by the “morshed,” or spiritual leader, who also served as narrator. This allowed him to manipulate not only the marionettes but also public opinion.
It is tempting to view Iranian presidential elections as a variation of this form, with the ruler himself playing the morshed. In the three decades he has been Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stage-managed the process by limiting the contest to candidates committed to the theocratic ideals of the Islamic Republic and personally loyal to him. Like Henry Ford, he has given voters the choice of any color — so long as it is black.
And not just in the metaphorical sense, either: Khamenei has tended to favor candidates in atramentous clerical vestments. The one exception to the rule, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, compensated for his lack of theological qualifications (and sartorial conformity) with even more performative piety than most mullahs.
But the Supreme Leader has never pulled the strings as tightly as he is for his ninth production of the presidential puppet show; the vote is on Friday. Khamenei has used his control of the Guardian Council, which oversees the election process, to eliminate any aspirants who might have challenged his chosen candidate — Ebrahim Raisi, the raven-robed, hardline head of the judiciary.
Even previous beneficiaries of such field-tilting have expressed concern that this time the puppet-master has gone too far. Outgoing President Hassan Rouhani urged Khamenei to widen the field, and Ahmedinejad has said he will not vote on Friday.
There have been calls for a boycott, and turnout is expected to be very low. That would damage not only the credibility, such as it is, of the election, but also Khamenei’s legitimacy. To
Source » iranbriefing