June 4, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 974

Iranian Presidential Elections – Part III: The Guardian Council's Disqualification Of Candidates

June 4, 2013 | By A. Savyon and Yossi Mansharof*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 974
"According to the [model] of Western democracy, we must see what the people say and what will satisfy their will, even if this will is against the religion and against morality... Based on this definition of democracy, [even] if people are drawn to acts that are against humanity and the religion, [this must be complied with]... like in some countries that have legalized homosexuality... [In contrast,] Islamic democracy is guided democracy... if there is deviation among the people, they must be guided, and we absolutely must not give in to their demands..."
- Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, in a religion lesson in Qom[1]
"There is democracy in many countries, but what Islamic Iran has surpasses democracy... The regime in Islamic Iran is based on religious thought that is completely supported by the people – to the point that they are even willing to sacrifice their lives for the regime."
- Approved presidential candidate Saeed Jalili[2]
"The issue of the U.S. elections raises questions, and I even brought this up to [EU Foreign Affairs Representative] Lady Ashton, asking her why in America, which is over 200 years old and has a population of more than 250 million, the election campaign is between only two candidates... America must answer the world, telling it by what rationale it calls for democracy... In America there are two parties that do not disagree on fundamental issues, and [each] presents its candidate, who has links to power and capital, to the public – and except for these [candidates], no one else is allowed to run."
- Saeed Jalili[3]
On May 21, 2013, the Iranian regime's Guardian Council announced its disqualification of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as presidential candidates.[4] Although he protested, Rafsanjani accepted the verdict, and called on his supporters to keep the peace and not harm the regime. At the same time, his associates explained that "he will neither withdraw nor surrender."[5]
The daughter and grandson of Iranian regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini warned Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against turning the regime into a dictatorship. They, as well as Majlis member Ali Motahari, called on Khamenei to intervene and to approve Rafsanjani's candidacy – inter alia, because Ayatollah Khomeini himself had considered Rafsanjani worthy of leading the country.[6]
Green Movement spokesmen claimed that the regime had lost its legitimacy. Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, spokesman for the Green Path of Hope organization's coordination committee and former advisor to Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, said: "The illegal disqualification of the presidential candidates is a continuation of the 2009 coup... The Guardian Council has no right to selectively and stubbornly interpret and implement the constitution and to do as it pleases... Instead of guarding the people's rights, the Guardian Council has become an institution that prevents the implementation of democracy and the people's right to determine its own destiny, and implements the law to act against justice and only as a tool for violence."[7]
Regarding Mashaei's disqualification, both his headquarters and his associate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that they would work to get the disqualification reversed by Supreme Leader Khamenei.[8] Ahmadinejad is continuing to lock horns with the establishment that is loyal to Khamenei, and also is continuing to promise victory for his path – his motto is "Long Live the Spring" – using rhetoric rich with references to pre-Islamic Persia and nationalism.[9]
On the other hand, regime circles, led by the daily Kayhan and by Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naqdi, praised the Guardian Council's "courageous decision." They explained that Rafsanjani had been disqualified despite his status because of his support for the Green Movement, and noted that the council's firm decision would only enhance the people's will to go to the polls.[10]
Before it announced the candidate disqualifications, the regime made ready, via the media and the security apparatuses, to put down any unrest that might result.[11] It was reported that since May 20, security forces have been deployed in the country's larger cities, and in the area near Rafsanjani's home,[12] and that journalists and workers in the Rafsanjani campaign had been arrested and detained.[13] Also, despite regime denials, it is apparent that there is interruption of Internet traffic within the country, and access to reformist dailies, including Bahar and Mardomsalari, has been blocked.[14]

Cover of the daily Ebtekar: Rafsanjani's back, with "Huge Shock!" written on it (image: Ebtekar), May 22, 2013.
Now that the way has been paved solely for Khamenei's candidates, it remains to be seen whether reformists will boycott the elections, or will rally around a candidate on whom they can agree – that is, approved candidate Hassan Rowhani, former Expediency Council member, Supreme National Security Council secretary and nuclear negotiating team leader under reformist President Khatami, and currently an advisor to Khamenei. He is also known to be close to Rafsanjani.
On June 4, 2013, at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei demanded of the eight approved candidates that they not be tempted to adopt the misguided notion calling for pleasing the West in order to soothe it, but to steadfastly look out for Iran's interests. He added that contrary to what the enemy believes – i.e. that the majority of Iranians oppose the regime but remain silent – the people does support the regime and goes out into the street do defend it. He then called "Death to America," and called on the public to vote en masse in order to create a "political epic" in Iran.[15]
Among the candidates close to Khamenei, the real fight is between ideologue Saeed Jalili, a Khamenei associate who is currently chief nuclear negotiator,[16] and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bakr Qalibaf, who is popular with the city's residents.
This paper will review the developments in the Iranian political arena following the disqualification of Rafsanjani as a presidential candidate.
Rafsanjani: The Day Will Come When Those Who Need To Arrive Will Indeed Arrive; In The Meantime, Keep The Peace And Do Not Harm The Regime
In a speech on May 22, 2013 to his campaign workers, Rafsanjani protested against being disqualified in light of Iran's deteriorating economic and political situation. After harshly criticizing the regime,however, he went on to call on his supporters to keep the peace and not to harm the regime, saying that there is no need to add to the threats that it faces from without. Following are excerpts from his statements:
"I do not want to get into their [i.e. my opponents'] claims and propaganda... Don't [Khamenei and the regime institutions] realize what they are doing? Even if there is hostility and rivalry [between us], common sense dictates that they let [me] run, and [only] afterwards shame me... Don't they know that it was [me] who sacrificed himself and only then opened the way for others?...
"I did not think my candidacy would spark a wave [of hope] in the country. I did not think that what happened [in 2009] could happen again. The people despaired, and suddenly a wave was created. Do not despair. One must never despair.
"We definitely did not expect this situation [i.e. disqualification]. While the damage may continue, the day will come when those who should arrive will indeed arrive. If there is anything to worry about, it is only the enemies from without – and that is [indeed] serious.
"There is hope that in the current situation, [the regime institutions, led by Khamenei] will take a serious decision, and will give us and the people a chance. I myself hope [that this will happen]. I ask all the people: Do not let your hopes become despair, and keep the peace. In any case, we have no other option. [The Guardian Council] did its duty, [and] since they have problems from without, they do not need enemies from within. No harm must be done to the regime."[17]
Khomeini's Family Members To Khamenei: Prevent Dictatorship, Intervene On Rafsanjani's Behalf
Following the announcement of Rafsanjani's disqualification, Zahra Mostafavi, the daughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, appealed to Supreme Leader Khamenei to reverse the decision and to approve Rafsanjani's candidacy. She noted that her father had stated that Rafsanjani was capable of being a leader of Khamenei's own caliber, and added that Khamenei's intervention was necessary "to prevent dictatorship":
"The day I heard from the Imam [i.e. her father, Khomeini] that he confirmed you as leader... I also heard him confirm Rafsanjani's qualifications; he mentioned [Rafsanjani's] name right after mentioning yours... Unfortunately, we see today that the Guardian Council has disqualified [Rafsanjani] as a presidential candidate... This drives a wedge between the two friends of the Imam [that is, between Khamenei and Rafsanjani] and disregards the enthusiasm of the common people for the regime and for elections.
"I am not claiming that Rafsanjani is today the same man he was yesterday, because everyone changes over time... but the incremental division between the two of you is the greatest of blows to the regime – because the Imam always said, 'As long as these two [work] together, it is good.'
"I ask that you intervene in this vital matter... because the Imam said that 'the Rule of the Jurisprudent was established to prevent everyone from doing as they please, and [to serve as] an obstacle to dictatorship'... I am certain that this request is also on the lips of many regime supporters who are concerned about the situation of Iran, and who desire unity and solidarity in the country."[18]
Also, Majlis member Ali Motahari, who heads the office of the Conservatives for Rafsanjani election headquarters, also asked Khamenei to intervene and to approve Rafsanjani's candidacy. He goaded him by saying: "Were Imam Khomeini alive [today], and running for election under an assumed name, he toowould have been disqualified, because even he was criticized sometimes. [Rafsanjani's] disqualification, which was for two unacceptable reasons – lack of physical fitness and involvement in the fitna of 2009 – will do serious damage to the upcoming elections... You surely know of the hope and enthusiasm inspired in the people... when Rafsanjani threw his hat into the ring – and that this [hope and enthusiasm] was dispelled by his disqualification... I suggest that you rule that he is qualified [to run]..."[19]
Green Movement: Rafsanjanji's Disqualification Is "A Bullet To Iran's Republicanism, Which Is In Its Death Throes"; Khamenei Will Face The Consequences
Green Path of Hope coordination committee spokesman Ardeshir Amir Arjomand told the website Kaleme, which is close to supporters of Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Moussavi who has been under house arrest for nearly two years: "The illegal disqualification of the presidential candidates is a continuation of the coup of 2009, and constitutes a bullet to Iran's republicanism, which is in its death throes. The Guardian Council has no right to selectively and stubbornly interpret and implement the constitution and do as it pleases... Instead of guarding the people's rights, the Guardian Council has become an institution that prevents the implementation of democracy and the people's right to determine its own destiny, and implements the law to act against justice and only as a tool for violence.
"Khamenei is directly responsible for the consequences of this illegal conduct. With [his] unjust support for the Guardian Council's illegal actions, he is preventing democracy from being implemented in Iran. The engineering of the elections began even before election day, and the power seekers fear democratic elections and want no atmosphere of dialogue in society. They were positive that Rafsanjani would win, so they stopped him from running... The elections will be meaningless."[20]
In an article dated May 22, 2013, Kaleme called Rafsanjani's disqualification "the elimination of the remnants of the regime's legitimacy... In recent days, the regime and the Guardian Council... had to choose between disqualifying their own history and their own institution [i.e. the Guardian Council], and submitting to another wave and movement [like those of] four years ago. So, out of fear of death, they have committed suicide. [Rafsanjani's disqualification] shows one thing only – that the tyrants know with certainty that the people still lives, and that they fear that it will use its latent power..."[21]
Will The Reformists Boycott The Elections?
Whether the reformists will vote in the election or boycott it following Rafsanjani's disqualification remains to be seen. While websites associated with moderate conservatives, and some associated with reformists, called on their supporters to go to the polls, political prisoner Mostafa Tajzadeh called on the reformists to boycott.[22]
The moderate conservative website Asr-e Iran expressed apprehensions that should the reformists boycott the elections because Rafsanjani was disqualified, they would be completely eliminated from the regime. It advised reformists to vote for a reformist candidate whose positions are close to Rafsanjani's, and went on to explain that if reformists vote they can at the very least repair their relationship with the regime. If they do not, it said, they will become the opposition.
Asr-e Iran stated: "Turning your back on the ballot box will not fix the ache; not only will Rafsanjani not be president, but the field in its entirety will go to his rival. [Therefore] we have no other way but the ballot box. We cannot deny that the trust between the reformists and the regime has been severely damaged... and it is not subversive [to say so]...
"They say that demands for reform will be implemented within the framework of the regime, and that they want reform within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But right now, the reformists have a great opportunity to take the first step towards reform, by rectifying the current atmosphere of misunderstanding. Legitimate participation in the elections by reformist candidates and their supporters, and, if they win, moderateness in running the country, could eliminate the apprehension and pessimism, and could benefit the state and the nation. Even if reformist candidates receive no votes at all, their participation in itself maintains their place in the regime and stops reformists from becoming unofficial and oppositionist."[23]
The reformist website Entekhab called on Rafsanjani to assist the reformists in choosing the ultimate candidate – either Hassan Rowhani or Mohammad Reza Aref – and for Rafsanjani to call on his supporters to vote for him. It explained that by doing so, Rafsanjani could restore enthusiasm for the elections, and that this could constitute a turning point in the history of the regime.[24]
However, on May 21 Kaleme warned that the regime was staging another coup, as it did in 2009: "In light... of Rafsanjani's disqualification, what is happening is not engineering of the elections, but another kind of coup. Following the defeat that Ahmadinejad dealt [to the Iranian people] for eight years, with the firm support of Khamenei and the military establishment, and also following the damage that Ahmadinejad did to [Iran's] image internationally and the political and economic crises he created at home, the election engineers are once again preparing to elevate a Khamenei associate [to the presidency]."[25]
Sobh-e Sadeq, the weekly of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), warned reformists not to boycott the elections as "the enemy is instructing them to," because if they do the regime will eliminate them permanently. The weekly stated that in any event, the elections will be termed a success and voter turnout will be high:
"In recent months, political circles [i.e. the reformists] held talks with the regime regarding their participation in the elections and which candidate they would present. They aimed to vanquish the government, or at the very least to regain the political legitimacy that they lost after they allied with the men of fitna [i.e. the 2009 election unrest]. But the regime does not need them for the elections to be a success. Solid proof of this is the recent Majlis elections, for which voter turnout was64%.
"Thus, these political circles are worried that voter turnout will be high even if they boycott. These circles would do better to participate in the elections – because that way they will sever relations with the enemy that wants the people to boycott. If they do not, the people will remove them permanently."[26]
Kayhan: The Regime Is More Important Than Rafsanjani
The May 23 front page headline of the daily Kayhan, which is close to Khamenei, read "Candidates Accept Guardian Council Decision, America Protests." The newspaper went on to explain that the regime was unable to approve Rafsanjani's candidacy because he supports and is supported by the protest movement. It wrote:
"Is it acceptable for the men of fitna, who in 2009 publicly shouted in the streets 'the elections are [just] an excuse – we are targeting the regime's existence,' and vented all their resentment against the Rule of the Jurisprudent, the Islamic Republic, and Imam Khomeini, to again state that they are going to vote and are supporting Rafsanjani in a democratic rivalry and in the framework of the regime's laws? ... What course of action would be wise?
"We, the supporters of Imam [Khomeini] and the revolution, owe a debt of gratitude to the members of the Guardian Council, who shoulder the weighty responsibility of examining and declaring the competency of the presidential candidates... [With this decision,] the Guardian Council has heartened the nation of believers and revolutionaries... How must we act towards a man [i.e. Rafsanjani] who in his July 17, 2009 Friday sermon supported the men of fitna and encouraged them, [even] after their serial betrayals[27]... and said: 'My position is the same as in my last Friday sermon" and who repeatedly expresses skepticism about the freedom of the elections... How must we act towards him?
"What is more important here – [the reputation of] a political figure with an important and distinguished record, or the continuation of [the regime of the] Islamic Republic, the people, Imam Khomeini, and the school of Imam Hossein?
"The Guardian Council message regarding Rafsanjani's candidacy... is that the law and the [continued existence] of the regime are more important than figures..."[28]
* A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project; Y. Mansharof is a research fellow at MEMRI.
[1], April 3, 3013.
[2] Kaleme (Iran), May 21, 2013.
[3], May 26, 2013.
[4] Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said that Rafsanjani's age was a factor in his disqualification. Asr-e Iran (Iran), May 22, 2013.
[5], May 23, 2013.
[6] In response, Assembly of Experts member Ahmad Alam Al-Hoda accused Khomeini's daughter Zahra Mostafavi, of sullying the Imam's honor, adding that her statements were false and that even Rafsanjani himself had never claimed to be worthy of leadership. Kaleme (Iran), May 24, 2013.
[7] Kaleme, May 22, 2013.
[8] ISNA (Iran), May 21, 2013. Newspapers close to the Ahmadinejad government – Iran, Gostaresh-e Sonnat,and Shaharvand – did not even publish the Guardian Council's decision the following day. Serat (Iran), May 22, 2013.
[9], May 25, 2013. The motto "Long Live the Spring" has been used by the Ahmadinejad government in recent months, sparking criticism from regime circles loyal to Khamenei.
[10] Fars (Iran), May 22, 2013; Kayhan (Iran), May 23, 2013.
[11] Mohammad Reza Naqdi implicitly warned the public against protesting when he said that "the bitter memory of the 2009 events remains in people's minds... The lesson we learned in 2009 is enough so that such events do not recur." ISNA (Iran), May 23, 2013.
[12], May 21, 2013.
[13], May 22, 2013., May 22, 2013.
[14] Kaleme (Iran), May 21, 2013;, May 22, 2013.
[15] Mehr (Iran), June 4, 2013.
[16] Some examples of Jalili's ideological statements: "Our steadfast position provided us with invaluable experience, and today the regime is a model for the countries of the world. We must build the culture of the revolution to show the world the rich culture achieved by Shi'ite jurisprudence and religious thought.", May 29, 2013. "Today, the world is waiting for a model, a model of both resistance and progress. Without such a model, we cannot achieve the Islamic civilization and the ideals that we have in mind." Press TV (Iran), June 2, 2013.
[17], May 23, 2013;, May 23, 2013.
[18] ISNA (Iran), May 22, 2013. Khomeini's grandson Hassan also decried the disqualification in a letter to Rafsanjani on May 22, 2013: "The unbelievable news of your disqualification hurt all those who love you and a large portion of those who love the Imam [Khomeini] and friends of the Leader [Khamenei]... From now on, the name Rafsanjani will be remembered by the Iranian people together with hope for tomorrow, and not just in the struggle and revolution...", May 22, 2013.
[19], May 22, 2013.
[20] Kaleme (Iran).org, May 22, 2013.
[21] Kaleme (Iran), May 22, 2013.
[22], May 26, 2013. Tajzadeh accused Khamenei of holding fraudulent elections because he was behind the disqualification.
[23] Asr-e Iran (Iran), May 22, 2013.
[24] Entekhab (Iran), May 25, 2013. Indeed, Asr-e Iran reported that advisors for Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami had come up with a plan under which Rafsanjani, Khatami, Aref, and Rowhani would hold a joint press conference announcing Aref's withdrawal in favor of Rowhani. All the participants would announce their support for Rowhani and declare Aref his vice president. Reformist heads have yet to approve the plan, but a decision could be made in the coming days. The reformists assess that such a consensus would greatly increase their chances of winning the election. Asr-e Iran (Iran), May 29, 2013.
[25] Kaleme (Iran), May 21, 2013.
[26] Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), May 27, 2013.
[27] In that sermon, Rafsanjani warned that many people doubt the election results and called on the regime to release political prisoners to restore the people's faith in the regime. See MEMRI TV Clip #2205 – Chairman of Iranian Assembly of Experts, Former President Rafsanjani, in a Friday Sermon: People's Confidence in Us Was Harmed, July 17, 2009. In November 2011, Rafsanjani said he still holds the same opinion he made in that sermon. Entekhab (Iran), November 14, 2012.
[28] Kayhan (Iran), May 23, 2013. On May 22, 2013, Kayhan said that during Rafsanjani's presidency (1989-1997), inflation had reached 50% annually.

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