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Ali Larijani vs the Guardian Council: Is the Spurned Presidential Hopeful Fighting to Stay in Politics?

December 21, 2021
Ehsan Mehrabi
4 min read
Ali Larijani vs the Guardian Council: Is the Spurned Presidential Hopeful Fighting to Stay in Politics?

Earlier this month a confidential letter from the Guardian Council to Ali Larijani was published, explaining why he had been disqualified from running in the June 2021 presidential election. Amongst other things it cited Larijani’s past political stances, the residence of some of his first-degree relatives in the US and the UK and his position on the JCPOA.

Ali Larijani’s irate response, in which he rejected the official reasons as “a low-level excuse”, was then published in full in Shargh newspaper.

Some principalists have read the publication of this exchange it as a bid to keep Ali Larijani in post as chairman of the Expediency Council: the unelected, Supreme Leader-appointed advisory panel with the final say over legislative issues in the country, which has mysteriously not met for several months now. He took up the role in December 2018 after the death of Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, and was made a full member of the council after his term as speaker of the Iranian parliament came to an end.

In September 2021, powerful cleric and ex-chief justice Sadegh Larijani resigned from the Guardian Council in protest against his brother's disqualification from the presidential race. He also refused to sign the decree approving Ebrahim Raisi’s candidacy and spurned his confirmation in the Iranian parliament.

Rumors circulated that Ali Larijani would be stepping down as chairman of the Expediency Council too. But Majid Ansari, another member of the Council, told the media that the two positions had nothing to do with each other. Members of the Council are confirmed every five years and the next round of appointments by Ali Khamenei is expected to take place in either March or August 2022. There has been speculation in recent months that Larijani and others, such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will not hold onto their positions.

Iranian conservatives’ suspicions that the recently-published spat aimed to consolidate Larijani’s position are heightened by the fact that he Khamenei also made him a member of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution on November 15 this year. It was his first formal appointment since the election, leading ex-MP Hossein Naqavi Hosseini to comment: "I believe Mr. Larijani does not intend to leave politics and will remain firmly and actively present in the political arena."

Members of the Expediency Council, however, have a higher political status. The Larijani brothers have a difficult road ahead in returning to top-tier politics and staying there, with strong opponents in the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Agency and intense scrutiny from the office of the Supreme Leader, which pushed ahead with the case of Akbar Tabari: a massive judicial corruption trial that signalled Sadegh Larijani’s fall from grace. Ex-MP and now Mayor of Tehran Alireza Zakani's verbal attacks on the Larijani brothers are widely thought to have come on the instruction of Hossein Fadaei, head of the inspection bureau at Khamenei’s office.

Larijani's Letter and the Guardian Council’s Absolute Power

The key part of the Guardian Council’s letter to Ali Larijani was perhaps that in which it suggested the reasons for his disqualification were “not inherently important” – that he could have been knocked out of the race in any event. “These reasons,” chairman Ahmad Jannati wrote, “may not affect the members’ vote.”

Larijani wrote back: “So you admit that you cannot say that these were the reasons for [my] disqualification. That is, the council's response has no legal basis, and that the legal basis of the council's work in this case is under question.”

The probatory supervision of the Guardian Council means it does not need to provide a reason for disqualifying candidates, and merely accepts or rejects them. The Supreme Leader himself has emphasized: "Disqualification does not indicate [a candidate’s] incompetence. Failure to qualify means that the Guardian Council has not been able to determine that this gentleman is qualified. Not that he is incompetent; no, he may be highly competent, but the reports, the possibilities, and the knowledge of the Guardian Council have not been enough to qualify him."

In other words, candidates must, through political and behind-the-scenes agitation, convince Khamenei and members of the Guardian Council that they are a good fit. It was also startling that the Guardian Council’s letter to Larijani specifically referred to his political stances as a reason for his having lost out. Jannati wrote that Larijani was “perceived to have been involved" in "parts of the disorder and the unfavorable situation within the government [of Hassan Rouhani]”.

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