In the months leading up to the Iranian elections, the
reformist voices were rather meek and discomposed, and anybody willing to utter
the words "Green' or "Mousavi' could be guaranteed a swift boot in the solar
plexus, courtesy of the Basij paramilitary forces.
Many reformists were calling
for a complete boycott of the elections, and it was therefore left to the
established political classes to battle things out. Political groups such as
Abadgaran, which in the past had championed the anti-imperialist punk rocker of Iranian politics,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were split this time round. Many opted for
Saeed Jalili, who was backed by ultra-hardliners spearheaded by the trigger-happy
Fatwa maniac, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi. Others preferred the charismatic Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who had gentrified the streets of Tehran
during his tenure as mayor of the capital.
Ghalibaf was seen by many as the
most likely candidate to run against Saeed Jalili in the second round of the elections, scheduled for June 21. To appease the clerical classes, he wore a black-and-white Keffiyeh over his shoulders throughout his campaign, a signal that
he upheld Iran's unconditional support for the Palestinians.
Saeed Jalili, on the other hand, who was already seen as a close ally of the clerical regime, proved his devoutness as a Muslim by the telltale callus on his forehead, the result of a lifetime of devotion to the prayer mat. Interestingly, the callus was obfuscated during the election campaign by a cosmetic foundation cream, as spotted by a canny journalist in the Guardian-funded Tehran Bureau. Of course, the obfuscation was intended to soften Jalili's image. However, for both young Iranian women, whose peroxide-blond hair peeked out more and more from ever-reclining hijabs, and young Iranian men, whose chest hair could be seen beneath the now popular Faravahar necklace (a nod to Persia's pre-Islamic civilisation), the mere thought that this proven hardliner might come into power threatened to turn their own hair as white as that on Saeed Jalili's head.
Yet, even while the usual Persian party politics were playing out, and the bizarre campaigning through ethno-Islamic symbolism was on display, the roar of "E'tedal, E'tedal, E'tedal" was gaining political dominance. As the Persian word for "moderation," "E'tedal" became the slogan of candidate Hassan Rouhani, whose campaign had the blessing of Mohammad Khatami, president of Iran from 1997-2005 and leader of the embattled reformist camp. Khatami had initially endorsed Mohammad Reza Aref, a mild-mannered technocrat who was generally considered the only true reformer. However, this qualification also made Aref a risky choice, since, even as the putative election winner, he would have needed ratification by the conservative Guardian Council before taking office as president.
As things things turned out on election day, June 14, Rouhani won a clear first-round victory with a majority 50.7% of the vote, soundly defeating his nearest opponent, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who won only 18%. The other four candidates had little impact, since it was clear to voters that Rouhani, among the candidates approved to run in the election, came the closest to backing a program of mass social reform. In the end, the presidential election campaign saw no blood, no rioting, and no need for a swift boot in the solar plexus. Job done. Goodnight, Tehran.
The Backing of Rafsanjani
While the endorsement by Mohammad Khatami was helpful to Rouhani's election victory, perhaps even more important was the backing of Iran's premier oligarch and
(deeply shady) seventy-eight-year-old kingmaker, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani had wanted to run in the election himself, but had been barred from doing so by the Supreme Leader, Ali
Khamenei. This in itself was ironic, as it was none other than Rafsanjani who had appointed Khamenei as
Supreme Leader twenty-four years earlier.
Rafsanjani remains very influential in Iran, despite tensions between himself and both the Supreme Leader and outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani is the chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, a body responsible for amending the Iranian constitution, which he formulated and has headed since its inception in 1989. Rafsanjani was formerly also head of the Assembly of Experts, a group now headed by Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, his close ally. This body has the power to remove the Supreme Leader--a power that is, however, highly unlikely to be invoked, since it could lead to a popular revolt against the regime and the entire concept of the Velayat-e faqih (Islamic government).
The Rift Created by Ahmadinejad Must be Resolved
Tensions within Iran's ruling elite were driven by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's aim to end
corruption in the highest echelons of Iranian society, which won him the
popular vote in 2005. The escalation of wealth within Iran's nouveau riche
began after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the appointment of Ali
Khamenei as Supreme Leader in 1989. Sections of Iran's economy were portioned
off to powerful players perceived as loyal to the revolution.
Since then, a select few ruling dynasties in Iran have gained a monopoly over exported goods and control of Iran's growing domestic markets, thereby becoming incredibly wealthy and powerful. They include the Tabasi and Asgaroladi families, as well as figures such as Mohsen Rafighdoost, a wealthy
Tehran merchant known as a Bazaari.
In addition, however, dynasties within the clerical and
political structures have also become incredibly powerful. This development is widely viewed as a
shift away from both the populist principles of the revolution and Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini's concept of Velayat-e faqih. Rumors that the Supreme Leader
Ali Khamenei and his son Mojtaba had amassed incredible wealth broadened over time to also include Ahmad Jannati, the Chairman of the Guardian Council and his son
Ali. Ahmadinejad used those rumors as political leverage, inventing a now
famous catch phrase, "Should I tell?" that deeply troubled the ruling oligarchy
and created rifts in loyalty within the Sepah-e Pasdaran known as the
IRGC. It will be of utmost importance, during Hassan Rouhani's first term, to
repair these rifts.
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