Iran Election Guide

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Iran Feature: How the Revolutionary Guards Interfere in Elections (Sardari)

Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guards, and the Supreme Leader

Since 1979 --- despite a mandate to operate outside politics, backed up by an injunction from Ayatollah Khamenei --- the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij have become increasingly active in the political sphere. They have interfered with the operation of free and fair elections under the guise of protecting the Revolution, they have subverted electoral law with impunity. On each occasion, their meddling has become more brazen and less furtive. These forces now make up a parallel government that works to control and subvert the democratic process.

Arseh Sevom --- the NGO promoting civil society and human rights in Iran present an article by Mohammad Reza Sardari originally published in Persian that describes an overview of the growing influence of Iran’s armed forces.

The intervention of armed forces in Iran's election process can be traced back to its early days in the 1980s after the establishment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

In 2007 Iran's Basij paramilitary force came under the supervision of the IRGC. Both are directly controlled by the Supreme Leader. Unlike the army, both the IRGC and Basij have always interfered in elections, despite the fact that there is no law giving them authority to do so.

According to the Presidential Election Law, police and military forces, armed or not, are prohibited from interfering in arranging and supervising elections.

Military forces do not have the right to participate in any electoral process; from campaigning and vote counting through election management. Furthermore, military forces and intelligence officials cannot serve as representatives of candidates at polling stations. The Armed Forces Penal Code also forbids any participation, intervention, or activity of armed forces officials at rallies, in political disputes, or campaigning.

The IRGC’s statute prohibit its members from participating in political and partisan affairs.

Meddling of Basij and IRGC in Elections

But how does the IRGC engineer and influence elections? They act based on the country’s political situation, candidate participation, and the type of the elections. Given the diversity and geographical dispersal of candidates, IRGC activities are not centralized in parliamentary elections. The basic principle is to have a parliament with a majority of MPs who are unquestioning followers of the Supreme Leader.

The IRGC’s activities fall into two categories:

The first is security and intelligence activities and identification of the candidates in cooperation with the Guardian Council and Ministry of Intelligence...If there is no serious competitor for their desired candidates and no cost of [politically] eliminating an opposing candidate, the appointed candidate is a de facto a member of parliament before the elections even take place.

However, if the constituency contains several candidates, the IRGC goes to the second phase of its operation and uses its members, including the Basij, to select the candidate most in line with the position of the Supreme Leader. They use methods such as buying or directing votes. These methods require trainings which have already been offered to the members through general camps.

The IRGC’s operation is different when it comes to Presidential elections. Unlike parliamentary elections, the IRGC’s role is more prominent. Directing votes, sabotaging the activities of competitors, and even engineering the vote counting process are among the methods the IRGC uses. Activities of the “political guides” of the IRGC (whose members mostly consist of clerics) under the supervision of the Supreme Leader’s representative, the establishment of special camps for elections with the excuse of providing training for security, the distribution of flyers among IRGC and Basij members, surveillance of the activities of competitors, and security encounters, if necessary, are methods commonly used by the Corps in Presidential elections.

Final words

The presence of the powerful military institution of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and its dominance over the electoral process makes it impossible to conduct a free election. The highest authorities of this gigantic organization have shown in word and deed that even members of village councils should unquestioningly follow the orders of the Supreme Leader. The IRGC has gone even further and interfered in elections of non-governmental organizations such as Iran’s Physicians’ Association. Therefore, it can be concluded that although military forces are clearly prohibited from interfering in elections according to the law, the electoral system is dominated by their interventions, making it impossible to have free elections.

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