The Next Presidential Election and Conservative Anxiety in Iran

By Yadullah Shahibzadeh

When asked about his political future after the next year presidential election, in his recent interview with Iran’s state TV, Mohmoud Ahmadinezhad kicked off a new political controversy in Iran. He responded by saying that; “Who says that my government will end after the next year presidential election?”  According to the Iranian election laws, two terms presidents can stand as presidential candidates after a four year pause. Ahmadinezhad’s statement indicates his hopes for the victory of a members of his government in the next year election. Iranian Politicians and analyst in Iran have compared Ahmadinezhad’s style of government to Vladimir Putin and his tendency to copy the Putin-Medvedev model, with Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaiy, his chief of staff as the Iranian Medvedev. There are several other candidates for the Iranian Medvedev in the Ahmadinezhad’s government, if Rahim-Mashaiy is disqualified by the Guardian Council.  Hypothetically, if one of  Ahmadinezhad’s close allies wins the presidency in the next year presidential election he will continue his  control of the government until he regains presidential power in the 2017 presidential election. But with regard to the fate of previous political alliances, the Putin-Medvedev model will hardly work in the Islamic Republic.

It began with Abolhasan Banisadr’s alliance, an Islamist social democrat with the radical Islamist left to marginalize the liberal forces that led the provisional government in 1979. Less than two years later Banisadr was ousted from office by a parliament that was dominated by the Islamist left. In order to establish its extended dominance on political power in Iran the Islamist left took side with the Islamist conservatives against president Banisadr in 1981 and against Ayatollah Montazari in 1988. Montazeri was supposed to become Iran’s next leader after Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamist left was sidelined by the alliance of Hashemi Rafsanjani and the conservatives in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Again, in the late 1990s, after the Islamist left became reform oriented and took power 1979-2005, it tried to force Hashemi Rafsanjani out of Iranian politics because of his previous alliance with the conservatives in the late 1980s and the early 1990s against the Islamist left. As a result, Rafsanjani entered in a new alliance with the conservatives to contain democratic reforms in the system. The anti-reform alliance served neither Rafsanjani nor the leaders of the conservative establishment. It, surprisingly, gave birth to young neo-conservative forces that did not follow a clear ideological line but claimed total obedience to Iran’s leader, Ayatllah Khamenei.  In fact, Ahmadinezhad was an accidental product of the competition between the newly emerged pragmatist and hardliner neo-conservative forces that grew on the margin of the reformist-conservative disputes in 1997-2005. The hardliner neo-conservative forces received support from the Revolutionary Guard, the archconservative Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and Iran’s leader. What Ahmadinezhad shared with Mesbah Yazdi and the Revolutionary Guard was their total obedience to the leader’s authority that as they claimed had no constitutional limits. Ahmadinezhad said during his first presidential election campaign that as Iran’s president he would leave all political decisions to the leader in order to have enough time to carry on an effective executive role. Now, seven years later, Ahmadinezhad is blamed by Mesbah Yazdi and the Revolutionary Guard for his disobedience to the leader. He is hated by the majority of the neo-conservatives in the parliament. He has no reliable connection to the Revolutionary Guard and several members of his government are accused of economic corruption by the Iranian judiciary. According to the estimates released by his former conservative and neoconservative allies, Iran’s oil earnings during his government equates to the total oil revenue that Iran had gained since the discovery of Oil in 1907 to 2005, the year Ahmadinezhad became Iran’s president. Ahamadninezhad is accused, by the same people who supported him by all institutional, legal and illegal means in the 2009 presidential election against the reform oriented candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, to have destroyed the Iranian economy in a way that no government has never done before.

In April 2011, Ahmadinezhad fired his intelligent minister. The decision was reversed by Iran’s leader. He ordered the intelligent minister to remain in his position. Believing that the leader’s action was an illegal action that questioned the president’s constitutional authority, Ahmadinezhad refused to go to work and stayed away from cabinet meetings for 11 days. Ahamadinezhad expected that his action instigate a popular response. When 11 days passed and not a single sole in Iran bothered about the president’s situation and nobody outside the tiny circle around him took his side he became an easy target for Khameni’s supporters. Disappointed with the people and disconnected with the leader, Ahmadinezhad has become, according to many politicians in the conservative camp, a pain in the system that must be tolerated until the end of his term.

While many of Ahmadinezhad’s former allies share the view that he has no political future, he has started to raise political issues for which the reform oriented forces and the Green Movement activists have been prosecuted, imprisoned and deprived from the political rights that they enjoyed in the past. In Ahmadinezhad’s new terminology the country’s president is the expression of the general will of the nation and the guardian of the constitution and the protector of people’s constitutional political and civil rights. Ahamdinezhad’s relationship with his former conservative allies in the last two years proves that the ones who start a political game to gain a bigger share of political power and those who win the political power at the end of the game in the Islamic Republic are not necessarily the same people. Ahmadinezhad’s ascendance to power was a result of the political dispute between the reform oriented and the conservatives. While leading figures in the conservative including Iran’s leader did not did not consider Ahmadinezhad as more than a footsoldier in their fight against the reform oriented political forces, it was Ahmadinezhad who used every accessible means to the conservatives for his own personal gains and then refused to share his power with the conservative establishment. Now, with regard to the ways Ahmadinezhad has treated the people who assisted him in his ascendance to power, he cannot be sure that the person he helps to become the next president will remain loyal to him as president. But what is at stake in the next presidential election is not Ahmadinezhad’s political future, but the role of Iran’s leader in presidential elections. Ali Motahari, an outspoken Iranian parliament member said recently that Ahmadinezhad’s presidency was a political and economic disaster but the disaster would not have occurred if the conservatives did not misjudge the relation and support of the leader to Ahmadinezhad. According to this parliament member almost 90 % of the conservatives knew that Ahmadinezhad would bring nothing but economic and political failure. Yet they supported him because they believed he was the leader’s preferred presidential candidate. The conservatives should have, according to this view, thought independently and select and support a presidential candidate who could have eased political tensions instead of inflaming them by his every word and action. The explicit message of this view to the leader is clear; please stay away from the next year presidential election.

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