The Supreme Leader has repeatedly voiced his support for the Iranian peoples’ right to vote freely in elections. But, says Reza HaghighatNejad, this “right” comes with many conditions, begging the question: does he actually believe in it?
Not long ago, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei, said that “Even the people who disapprove of the system should take part in elections.” But on Wednesday, January 20, he contradicted this entirely when he explained that “that [his earlier statement] doesn’t mean that they [the Iranian people] should send people to parliament that don’t believe in the system.”
This latest remark would suggest that the Supreme Leader only supports the Iranian peoples’ right to vote “freely” if and when they choose to elect candidates that follow guidelines that are set out by the regime, and candidates that, according to him, “believe in the system, its interests and the interests of the country.”
The comment also suggests that Ayatollah Khamenei expects people with little or no faith in the present political system to vote for candidates who support the regime and whom have the support of the regime. In other words, the authorities welcome “healthy competition” if and when electoral results reflect the needs and wants of the status quo. But can this “right” be conditional?
Ayatollah Khamenei first began using the term “people’s right” on June 14, 2013 when he said that protecting the popular vote was a matter of “trust” and that it was the single most important right of all. However, it is likely that he was only saying this so that he could regain the credibility he lost after the government crackdown on protestors during the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election. Nonetheless, it was a statement that was praised by many inside Iran; former President Hashemi Rafsanjani asked the Iranian people to pay attention to what he had said, current President Hassan Rouhani quoted the Supreme Leader’s words at the start of several of his speeches and Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif even said that it had opened a new chapter in discussions on human rights in Iran.
Then in September 2015, Ayatollah Khamenei repeated his comments once again. However, this time he added the fact that he felt it was “the right of the Guardian Council to vote and to effectively supervise” the electoral system and therefore in the process to “supervise” the peoples’ right to vote. When he made the statement, the Guardian Council was being widely criticized for its actions and so it is probable that he was trying to better its reputation and give it more credibility.
Then in December 2015, he referred - for the third time - to this alleged “right” of the people, but this time he added yet another three provisions. The Supreme Leader said that writing up candidate lists was another “right of the people” but that they should never be compiled with wicked intentions in mind. In other words, he was once again altering the meaning of the term for political expediency. He also said that accepting the results of an election was itself another right of the people. This was the Supreme Leader’s attempt to justify his decision to not annul the election of 2009 under the rationale that he had done this so as to defend this particular “right of the people.”
Ayatollah Khamenei also made the point that the Iranian people have the right to scrutinize their electoral choices and that there would be ramifications for these choices. As political events unfold, chances are the Supreme Leader will refer back to these “ramifications” and use them as validation for actions he decides to take in the future.
But why has Ayatollah Khamenei chosen to refer to the “peoples’ right to vote” on so many occasions? According to the website for the Institute for Preserving and Publishing Works by Ayatollah Khamenei, it is because his “enemies” want to distort discussions surrounding this right and to use it as a tool both to disappoint the Iranian people and to put pressure on the Guardian Council.