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A New Phase of Election Engineering: Would The Guardian Council Disqualify Rowhani?

June 10, 2013
Omid Memarian
5 min read
A New Phase of Election Engineering: Would The Guardian Council Disqualify Rowhani?
A New Phase of Election Engineering: Would The Guardian Council Disqualify Rowhani?

Just a few days after the last presidential debate and following the huge, 50,000-strong turnout at Hassan Rowhani’s campaign rally at Tehran’s Shiroudi Stadium which was reminiscent of the 2009 pre-election atmosphere, the Fars News Agency ran a foreboding piece. The news site, close to the Revolutionary Guards, quoted an informed source on Sunday as saying: “The Guardian Council will probably reconsider the qualification of Hassan Rowhani, a presidential candidate, in its meeting tomorrow, due to the anti-security and illegal statements made by [the candidate].”

It’s not clear whether this is intended as a simple warning to Hassan Rowhani, or whether the Guardian Council or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, have really arrived at such a decision. But in the wake of Hashemi Rafsanjani’s disqualification, such a move would be an earthquake on the political scene. In his meetings and gatherings, Rowhani refers respectfully ofMohammad Khatami and Rafsanjani, and speaks of the necessity of free speech, social freedom, and reducing tensions in Iran’s relationship with the world. All of these are topics that could send shivers down Khamenei’s spine. The official stance of Tehran extremists is that there is plenty of freedom of speech in Iran, and that the President must somehow leave Iran’s macro policy-making and even implementation of those policies to the Supreme Leader and his executive team, appointed by Khamenei himself.

The purported decision to reconsider Rowhani’s place on the ballot can also be viewed as pre-emptive talk, with an eye to developments that might unfold this week to undermine the chances of Mr. Khamenei’s favorite candidates. There is likely real concern that a wave of support may gather around one of the two reformist candidates, leading to a reformist going to the expected second round of elections. The fear there is that with society increasingly polarized, many more Iranians may participate than actually expected, with a reformist candidate in the second round poised to attract most of the votes.

So whether the talk of disqualification is just a warning to Rowhani, or the Guardian Council actually meets to discuss taking him off the ballot, there’s little doubt that Khamenei would not be aware of or involved in the latter scenario, which would eliminate the candidate closet to Rafsanjani and Khatami.

The possibility of Rohani’s elimination supports the early speculation that he and Mohammad Reza Aref were qualified in the first place as projected losers, candidates who wouldn’t disrupt the intended current of the elections but who could split the opposition vote. In this light, their purpose on the ballot was to bring fence-sitting and dissident voters to the polls, raising turnout numbers and helping the regime bestow a medal of honor upon itself for such high participation.

In this way, the elections engineering would have been successful, the people would have participated in the elections, and the costs for eliminating the competition would have been far less than what they were in 2009. Considering what it would cost Khamenei to eliminate Rowhani at this stage, it is fair to assume that the earlier calculation of the election engineers hadn’t anticipated these recent developments and that a new plan is required.

Making no effort to conceal its affiliation with security and military circles, Fars News Agency refers to instances that could have led to the decision to eliminate Rowhani before elections day. “Supporting the heads of sedition during a speech, revealing state information, and anti-security actions such as the gathering of Rowhani supporters in Jamaran are some of the reasons the Guardian Council intends to reconsider this candidate's qualification."

It is also possible that under direction from Khamenei, the election engineers may wait out the coming days, and as an IRGC commander said, postpone cracking down on the reformist candidates until after the elections. On Sunday, June 9, Sepah News (the IRGC official News Agency) quoted Brigadier General Seyed Masoud Jazayeri as saying, “we will postpone legal handling of certain presidential candidates to after the elections.” Jazayeri, who is deputy chief of Joint Armed Forces Headquarters and head of the Defense Propaganda Headquarters, said, "we had warned before that it would be best if the esteemed candidates would limit expressing their opinions in the areas within the authority levels of the president and to refrain from entering in the armed forces’ domain which directly deals with defense and national security." The Spokesperson for the Iranian Armed Forces added, “we reserve the right to legally pursue that group of gentlemen candidates who have not observed these boundaries and who engaged in propagating incorrect information or a dark portrayal, and postpone it until after the elections.”

In the third television debate held on June 7, Rowhani implied that he knows things he does not wish to bring up. After the debate, a three-minute video was posted on YouTube showing Rowhani after the television debate. In the video, he goes on to answer Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf who had earlier referred to a meeting of the Supreme National Security Council in 2002, about cracking down on the students. Rowhani said that Qalibaf, then Tehran police chief, had suggested trying to ambush the students in what he referred to as “pincer style.”  Rowhani said that he has many more of these meetings in his memory. “One of the candidates referred to a section, a meeting, an incident, and hundreds of meetings started walking in my head. I wanted to mention one or two samples, but I couldn’t do it. It would not have been fair.”

Referring indirectly to statements made by Saeed Jalili about Iran’s nuclear program, Rowhani questioned his knowledge, saying,  “It is very profound when someone doesn’t know what effects the [IAEA] Board of Governors could have, or what impact the Security Council could have.”

Taken together, the Revolutionary Guards Commander’s remarks along with the ominous Fars News speculation about revoking Rowhani’s qualification, the possibility emerges that the regime will take its own corrective course before the election is even held. Whatever happens, it doubtlessly have the approval of the head elections engineer, Seyed Ali Khamenei.




March of the Qualified

June 9, 2013
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