Iranian reformists blocked

An important article discusses the elections in Iran noting that reformists might be blocked “In a Jan. 9 speech to commemorate a 1978 uprising in Qom, Iran’s religious center, in which the country’s then-royal regime killed protesters opposed to its rule, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei extolled the event as an example of Islamic exceptionalism. The deadly incident, known as the 19th of Dey, its date in the Persian calendar, is widely considered a prelude to the revolution that one year later established the clerical theocracy that rules Iran today. Khamenei boasted that the flame of Iran’s revolution, unlike its French and Russian forebears, has never been extinguished. And he pledged to keep it that way. “It is very important that a revolution manages to survive, keep itself alive, and confront its enemies and defeat them,” he said. “Our revolution is the only revolution that has managed to achieve these things, and these achievements will continue.” The tribute served as a warning that, regardless of the outcome of the elections this Friday, Iran’s path is unlikely to change”.

Pointedly the writer notes that “This mocking of Iran’s reformists and the tragic fate they met in 2009 presaged what took place a few weeks later, when Khamenei’s allies excluded thousands of reformist candidates from this week’s elections. The only reformist candidates who survived the cull were those whom most voters had never heard of. Paradoxically, the reformist list’s best-known candidate is Ali Motahari, parliament’s most outspoken member. A lifetime conservative scion of a famous cleric, his recent realignment with the reformists is testament to the country’s changing political landscape. While the regime wants 2009 to be forgotten, Motahari has criticized the detention of Green Movement leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, simultaneously winning respect from centrists and moderates as well as reformists”.

Interestingly he mentions that “The reformists have also toned down their ideological aims markedly in this election — a step backward from President Mohammad Khatami’s administration of the early 2000s, when they openly aimed to alter the Islamic Republic’s rigid ideology and pass new laws to tackle gender inequality and promote personal freedoms. This was due to the crackdown that followed the 2009 vote: The judiciary locked up so many activists and shut down so many newspapers that, right now, their goals are far more modest, including avoiding being outlawed as a political force entirely. In the present election, they have formed an ad hoc coalition with political factions supporting the country’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, who has tended to seek more gradual change”.

The writer notes that two elections take place, one for the parliament the other for the Assembly of Experts, “Its biggest potential task has long lay dormant: In a manner similar to how the Roman Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals selects a new pope, the 88 clerics who will comprise the next Assembly of Experts will pick the 76-year-old Khamenei’s successor should he die during its eight-year term. While Khamenei and other officials have urged a high turnout in the run-up to election day, they have also taken steps to show that Iran’s elections will happen on the regime’s terms. The Guardian Council, a 12-member constitutional watchdog, in addition to excluding parliamentary candidates deemed insufficiently loyal to the clergy, has sought to neuter Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khamenei’s revolutionary brother turned foe”.

The report adds “For the country’s reformists, the contradictions of the orchestrated selection process and the predominantly octogenarian makeup of Iran’s highest clerical body make a mockery of claims that the polls are democratic. This dissonance is increasingly hard for a young population to stomach. (Iran’s median age is 30, and around 60 percent of its population of roughly 80 million is younger than that.) It is, according to Khamenei, the duty of all citizens to vote. But the underlying meaning of his pronouncements is that the purpose of doing so is to enshrine the system’s legitimacy, rather than allow people to register disapproval”.

Worryingly for the future of Iran the piece notes that “The wounds that were opened by the suppression of the 2009 protests show no sign of healing. At the first rally of the pro-Rouhani Alliance of Reformists and Government Supporters, which aims to topple hard-line conservatives on Friday, thousands chanted “no more house arrest” and “free the prisoners.” The chants were a reference to Mousavi, Karroubi and the countless others deprived of liberty. The thousands who convened in the sports hall rally also held up a modified version of a poster of the reform movement’s éminence grise, Khatami, from the presidential campaign that saw him elected in 1997. The original shows his face in studied concentration, chin resting on hands. But the 2016version shows only the hands, due to censorship under a media ban on Khatami’s face being published or his words used. The moderate alliance’s logo fills the blank space”.

 

The piece ends “Despite such hopes, it is hard to see past the biggest influence over the elections so far: Khamenei and who will be his successor. While members of parliament come and go, the office of the supreme leader is, for all intents and purposes, for life. In his 19th of Dey speech, the supreme leader not only took potshots at his Green Movement enemies — he raised the subject of his own death, highlighting the overarching significance of the Assembly of Experts election. “When the current leader is not in this world, the day we do not have a leader, it is the responsibility of the Assembly of Experts to choose a leader … who holds the key to this revolution,” he said, urging even those who do not approve of him to cast a ballot. But to many, the overt action of his officials to influence the vote and counter Rouhani’s momentum and popularity after the nuclear deal has grossly undermined the prospect of a huge turnout”.

 

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