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February 29, 2024 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1750

Iran Election 2024 – Part II: The Disqualification Of Former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's Candidacy For The Assembly Of Experts

February 29, 2024 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1750

Ahead of the March 1, 2024 elections for the sixth Assembly of Experts in Iran, which will take place concurrently with the elections for the Majlis, the pragmatic conservative Aser-i Iran news website reported on January 24, 2024 that the Guardian Council[1] had disqualified former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani from running for reelection to the Assembly. The disqualification of Rouhani – who has been a member of the Assembly since 2000 and a member of the Majlis for five terms, and has also been a member and chairman of several key decision-making councils, including the National Security Council – is nothing short of expulsion by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

On January 25, in response to his disqualification, Rouhani published an article on his website in which he harshly criticized the Guardian Council for disqualifying him along with thousands of candidates to the Majlis. He wrote that the Council is a minority that wants to run the country and undermine the right of the Iranian people to vote and be elected in the political process. Careful not to criticize Khamenei himself, Rouhani wrote that the Guardian Council is a "politically-biased" "totalitarian minority" that "has no authority to determine the country's interests or disqualify its honest and concerned servants." Despite his criticism of the Guardian Council and despite his disqualification, Rouhani called on the Iranian public to vote in the elections.

In response to Rouhani's criticism, Hossein Shariatmadari, a senior Khamenei advisor and editor-in-chief of the regime mouthpiece Kayhan, hinted that, in the eyes of those who determine the relevant policies, Rouhani is no longer fit for a senior role in the regime due to his performance during his presidency. Shariatmadari even claimed that Rouhani had not been fit for his second term as president, which began in 2017. It should be noted that Shariatmadari was a harsh critic of Rouhani's presidency, especially of the nuclear deal that was reached during his term in office (even though the deal was approved by Khamenei).[2] He was also critical of Rouhani's opposition to the regime's aggressive enforcement of the hijab.

In his remarks in response to Rouhani's criticism of the Guardian Council, Shariatmadari also claimed that the Guardian Council does not publish its considerations in disqualifying candidates "in order to protect their dignity," but that it does share these considerations with the candidates themselves. He therefore called on Rouhani to publish the reasons for his disqualification in order to back up his claims against the Council. On February 22, 2024, Rouhani clarified on his website that he had sent three separate letters asking the Guardian Council to publish the reasons for his disqualification, but had received no reply, and therefore he himself does not know the reasons.

Below is the harsh criticism expressed by former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani against the Guardian Council in light of his disqualification, and the remarks made by Shariatmadari in response to Rouhani's criticism.

The Assembly Of Experts And Its Importrant Role

The Assembly of Experts is a high-level body of the Iranian regime that is responsible for appointing and overseeing the Supreme Leader of Iran, and even has the constitutional authority to impeach the Supreme Leader if it believes he is no longer fit for office due to illness, deviation from the principles of Islamic law, or any other reason. The Assembly comprises of 88 religious scholars who are directly elected by the Iranian people for a term of eight years but must be approved by the Guardian Council, which is controlled by the Supreme Leader. The Assembly convenes twice a year and its deliberations are confidential.

Rouhani About The Guardian Council: "The Ruling Minority No Doubt Wants To Officially And Publicly Restrict The People's Participation In The Elections"; The Guardian Council Is Politically Biased And Therefore Unfit To Fairly Oversee The Elections

The following are Rouhani's critical remarks about the Guardian Council, which were posted on his website:

"When [candidate] registration for the elections to the Assembly of Experts and the Majlis started, amid the cruel sanctions that overshadow every aspect of our lives in the country – political, economic, and social – and while most of the Iranian people are struggling to make a living and gradually losing hope for the future, and after consulting with elders and people of opinion, I registered to run in the election for the Assembly of Experts, hoping to fulfil my religious and national duty in these sensitive historic circumstances. [I did this] despite the pessimistic projections regarding public turnout in the upcoming elections, out of a profound belief in the role of free and competitive elections, while relying on the citizens' vote to create change in society, and out of awareness of the important [role played] by the Assembly of Experts in determining the country's fate, as well as awareness of the emphasis repeatedly placed by the Leader [Khamenei] on holding healthy and competitive elections with popular participation.

"The numerous domestic problems, the critical circumstances in the region, the external threats, concern for the future of the country and fear of [the spread of] atheism in society as a result of the policies and attitudes that have caused the present tension and disasters – [all these] were among the factors that motivated me to continue on the path I have followed for many years while bearing heavy responsibility.  


Former Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (Image: Asr-e Iran, January 24, 2024)

"Today it was reported that the Guardian Council has blocked this humble servant of the Iranian nation [Rouhani] from submitting his candidacy to the Assembly of Experts. I wish to share with you [the Iranian people] some thoughts about this matter, for you are primary masters of the state and the benefactors of the regime:

"Those who disqualified me for political reasons, as well as thousands of candidates to the Majlis, most of whom were [likewise disqualified] for political reasons, and denied the citizens the right to participate, do not own the revolution and the state, and have no authority to determine the country's interests or disqualify its honest and concerned servants [from running for office].  

"Already at the registration stage, it was possible to guess that [I would be disqualified], because if in the last two elections some citizens were disqualified [just] for the crime of supporting Rouhani, then Rouhani [himself] was bound to be disqualified. But, despite this, I could not refrain from doing what I recognized as my duty on the pretext of other people's misconduct. Out of love for the people and in order to prevent the dangers threatening the homeland, I once again exposed myself to attacks and protests.

"The Iranian nation now has clear and undeniable proof of the unconstitutional attitude of the totalitarian ruling minority [i.e., the Guardian Council] that eliminates [candidates arbitrarily]. This council has effectively intensified the public's growing despair regarding the elections. Instead of opposing the latest unconstitutional decision of the Majlis that limits the right to run for office, it approved this decision and the illegal moves of the [regime's] administrative and oversight councils… This bitter reality is in stark opposition to the will of the Leader [Khamenei], who regards it as the duty of all the [state] institutions to promote the broadest possible participation in the elections.

"In light of this clear evidence, there is no doubt that the ruling minority wants to officially and publicly restrict popular participation in the elections. This minority wants to eliminate elections [as a tool by which] the people can determine their own fate, in order be able to determine this fate with its own decisions. For this reason it is now more important than ever to stress the importance of popular participation in the ballot and to protest against the plans to abolish the ballot and eliminate the 'Republic' [component] of the regime.[3]  There is no way to protest except through the ballot. We must find a way to turn the protest vote into a means of expressing the [true] voice of the Iranian people. Despite being disqualified I still believe [people] should vote. They should protest by voting. Refraining from voting plays into the hands of those who do not want us to vote and who are gradually depriving the people of the undeniable right to vote. Therefore, it is the duty of the people's legitimate political representatives to show the people how to cast a protest vote.[4]       

"The gentlemen [at the Guardian Council] must be asked: Did you maintain your political neutrality when you took the decision [to disqualify me]? If you are not politically biased, on what legal grounds did you question my [eligibility], given that I have served so long as a representative of the people in the regime, [including] five terms as a Majlis member, [a role I fulfill] to this day, three terms as a Guardians Council member and two terms as the elected president, as well as serving as chairman in some of the regime's main decision-making councils? If you are not politically biased and did not disqualify me in advance out of fear I would win the majority of the votes,  why do you not share your reasons [for disqualifying me] with the public? And if you are politically biased, doesn't this action [of disqualifying me] negate your authority to fairly oversee the elections?    

"It is pertinent to ask: Does this attitude serve the interests of the state and the regime? Because, other than Providence, [the regime] has no force to support and aid it against the various threats, except for the people. The people's unity and participation is the only thing that guarantees the state's security and progress. Do you know the interests of the regime better than the citizens and the Leader, who consider maximal participation and competition a crucial [feature] of the elections?

"It is [also] important to ask: This process of eliminating and rejecting the people's servants and prominent figures whom the people trust – does it increase the people's faith in the regime, or does it undermine it? Do these restrictions and disqualifications enhance the social capital of the state and the regime and make the young people more hopeful about the future of the state and about playing a role in [determining] their fate, or does it [just] deter them from enacting reforms in the state?  

"Clearly, arbitrary moves of this sort, rooted in mistaken judgement and mistaken interpretation of the constitution, will not weaken my resolve to continue defending the rights of the beloved Iranian nation and the Islamic Republic regime. In fact, I proudly declare that I will continue to serve the honorable and patient Iranian people, as I did during the Iran-Iraq war and in [other] times of internal and external crisis in our country. I have always worked tirelessly around the clock to elevate the Iranian nation and state and remained true to my covenant with the citizens, and I will continue to serve the nation, alongside the patient and noble Iranian people, until my dying day.

"I deeply believe that the only way to extricate the country from its present difficulties and actualize the ideals of the revolution is to achieve development and cultivate morals values, rely on the votes of the people, maintain national unity, engage in constructive interaction with the world and the neighboring countries and change the regime's attitude, so as to safeguard the country's national interests.

"Gentlemen, we are sad that the efforts of this great Islamic Revolution, for which the dearest of our nation's sons gave their blood and their honor, are being squandered in this manner. In this regime, the citizens were meant to determine their own fate, rather than have a minority, just a handful of people, dictate their choices to them. This is not the Islam that was presented to the people [at the beginning of the revolution], and this is not the precious [goal] for which the citizens gave their lives. "God, you saved the [Iranian] people many times at moments of danger.  

"God, be once again the savior of these noble, patient and heroic people.

"God, protect this nation from the harm of those who monopolize [power], the zealots, the sycophants and those who sow disunity.

"God, grant peace, justice, freedom and prosperity to the state. Defend our country from enemies, from drought and from lies."[5]

Kayhan Editor Shariatmadari: The Guardian Council Refrains From Publishing The Reasons For Candidates' Disqualification In Order To Preserve Their Dignity; Rouhani Can Publish The Reasons For His Disqualification Himself

In a January 27, 2024 interview with the Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the Kayhan daily and Khamenei's representative at this institution, claimed that the Guardian Council refrains from publishing the reasons for a candidate's disqualification in order to protect his dignity, but that it does disclose the reasons to the candidates themselves, who are then free to publicize them. He therefore called on Rouhani to publish the reasons as evidence for his claims against the Council. As mentioned above, Rouhani asserts that he sent three letters asking the Guardian Council to disclose the reasons for his disqualification, but received no reply.

The following are the main points of Shariatmadari's remarks:

"In the statement he released to protest his disqualification, Mr. Rouhani made points that may be discussed seriously and examined. Among other things he mentioned that he had served five terms as a Majlis member, three terms with the Assembly of Experts, two terms as president and was also a member and chairman of several decision-making councils of the regime. He claimed that his disqualification was illegal and politically motivated.

"In response one must say: First, in the wise words of the Imam [Khomeini], 'it's a matter of the present condition of the people [submitting their candidacy].' While evaluating the qualifications of many of the candidates, the Guardian Council made new discoveries that it hadn't been previously aware of. There were also candidates who had been previously approved, [but] who, in the course of their political and ideological careers, took actions that [proved] them no longer fit [for their positions], so they were disqualified.

"The Guardian Council refrains from announcing the reasons for candidates' disqualification in order to protect their dignity. [Revealing the reasons] is religiously and morally forbidden. It is also against the law, not just against the shari'a.

  

Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the Kayhan daily (Source: Fars, Iran, January 25, 2024)

"[But] the Guardian Council does inform the candidates themselves about the reasons for their disqualification, at their behest, and the candidates are free to publicize the reasons. That is not against the law. So if Rouhani believes that his disqualification was the result of 'political bias,' as he maintained in his statement, he can ask the Guardian Council for the reasons and publish them for all to see.

"Regardless of the reasons for his disqualification, it should be noted that Rouhani's record during his two terms as president is right there for all the people to see, and can serve as a clear criterion for [assessing] his suitability. Without specifying [exactly] who he means by  'the people,' Rouhani claims that the people are concerned about his disqualification, when [the fact is that] masses of people were surprised and complained when he was pronounced fit to run for a second term [as president, and asked,] 'Why has the Guardian Council approved this, considering his performance and positions during his first term?'"[6]

Appendix: MEMRI Reports On Majlis And Presidential Elections In Iran

The following are MEMRI reports from the recent years on Majlis and presidential elections in Iran and on the disqualification of reformist and moderate conservative candidates by the Guardian Council.

Inquiry & Analysis No. 1502, The Recurring Scam Of Allegedly Democratic Elections In Iran: The 11th Majlis Elections – A Continuation Of Khamenei's Dictatorship Through His Councils, February 19, 2020.

Special Dispatch No. 6282, Iranian Pragmatic Camp Leaders Protest Against Regime's Mass Disqualification Of Thousands Of Pragmatic Camp Candidates For February 2016 Majlis Elections, January 28, 2016.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 969, Iranian Presidential Elections – Part II: Which Candidates Will The Regime Thwart? Supreme Leader Khamenei vs. His Rivals – Rafsanjani And Ahmadinejad, May 10, 2013.

Inquiry & Analysis No. 974 - Iranian Presidential Elections – Part III: The Guardian Council's Disqualification Of Candidates – June 4, 2013.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 810, Iran's Ninth Majlis Elections: A Show with Pre-Determined Results, March 14, 2012.

Inquiry & Analysis No. 810, Iran's Ninth Majlis Elections: A Show with Predetermined Results, March 14, 2012.

Inquiry & Analysis No. 430, Power Struggle in Iran – Part IV: Staged Majlis Elections, Elimination of Reformist Political Representation, Abolition of 'Rule of the Jurisprudent,' April 9, 2008.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 226, The Upcoming Presidential Elections in Iran (Part II), June 16, 2005.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 713, The Political Debate in Iran Following Elections for the Seventh Majlis, May 12, 2004.

 

* A. Savyon is director of the MEMRI Iran Media Studies project.

 

[1] The Guardian Council, established by the constitution after Ruhollah Khomeini's rise to power in the Islamic Revolution, is a supervisory body tasked with authorizing candidates for the presidency and the Majlis, and with ensuring that the legislation passed by the Majlis is congruent with Islamic law. The Council is a conservative body comprising of six religious scholars appointed directly by the Iranian Supreme Leader, and six judicial experts whose membership must also be approved by the Leader. The Council is authorized to disqualify candidates at its discretion.

[2] Contrary to the widespread view in the West, secret nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran began already in 2011 and 2012, during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The talks became public when Rouhani, who is a leading pragmatist and the right-hand man of Hashemi Rafsanjani, took office.

[3] The Iranian regime is called the Islamic Republic regime, and officially rests on two principles: republicanism and Islam.

[4] Like in previous elections in Iran, the issue of boycotting the elections has been much in focus, with many reformist organizations and figures favoring a boycott and other reformists opposing it. In fact, a group of 110 reformists called on the public not to boycott the elections, which would leave the political arena to the radical ideologists, but rather to participate and vote for moderate candidates, whose names would be published in agreed-upon lists, and who would improve conditions for the public. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1749 – "Iran Elections 2024 – Part I: Reformist 'National Front Of Iran' Calls For Boycott – 'We Do Not Participate In Fraudulent Elections'" - February 28, 2024.

[5]  Rouhanihassan.com, January 25, 2024.

[6] Kayhan (Iran), January 27, 2024.

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