Iran Election Guide

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Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- The Presidential Election (Arseh Sevom)

The 8 Approved CandidatesArseh Sevom, the NGO promoting civil society and human rights in Iran, offers its perspective on the week in the Presidential election:

The disqualifications of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s former chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashai were big news, if not entirely surprising. 

The electoral field is now dominated by hardliners loyal to the Supreme Leader.

However, the fictional campaign of Zahra continues to pick up steam with the endorsements of prominent lawyers Shirin Ebadi and Mehrengiz Kar. 

The Gang of Eight

More than 680 people registered to run in the presidential election to replace Ahmadinejad. In the end, the field was whittled down to eight: all of them men. The gang of eight includes the following men:

Jalili is widely seen as the favourite candidate of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Yer Out!

After the announcement of the Mashai and Rafsanjani candidacies, there was excitement, with the prospect that the elections might be worth watching for surprises.

The Crown Center for Mideast Studies published a brief by Seyedamir Hossein Mahdavi speculating on the possibility of “healthy elections.” Several posts on LobeLog wrote of the "unpredictable" when Rafsanjani added his name to the list of candidates.

But, after the disqualifications of Rafsanjani and Rahim-Mashai, expectations of an interesting campaign have been muted.

Upon hearing the news of his exclusion, Rafsanjani strongly criticised the policies of the country’s ruling establishment, stating, ”I don’t think the country could have been run worse.”

Explaining his reasons for throwing his hat in the ring, Rafsanjani said: “There was a flood of letters and telephone calls from Najaf, Qom, and Mashhad. All of the major clerics for my candidacy. How could I be so obstinate and say no to them, especially to the youth?”

He continued  by warning of disintegration in Iran:

There are two dangerous projects in the United States Senate. They are waiting for the election to be decided before taking action. They want to breakup Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan and Azerbaijan provinces.

Rafsanjani may have been referring to a letter from a Republican congressman urging the unification of Iran's Azerbaijan Provinces with the country of Azerbaijan and the recent resolution from the Senate foreign relations committee supporting Israel in case of an attack on Iran.

Too Old to Rock and Roll

Before the release of the approved list of candidates, there was already speculation that age would be given as the reason to block a Rafsanjani candidacy. Iran Election Watch noted that it was ironic that the 87-year-old head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, would be overseeing the qualification process.

The hardline Kayhan newspaper called on the Guardian Council to disqualify Rafsanjani, saying he was the favourite of the country’s enemies and opposition.

However, Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei indicated that Rafsanjani's 78 years was the primary reason for disqualification: “Until this election, there has not been a candidate with old age or a specific disability which would require us to provide specific commentary."

Although critical of the decision, Rafsanjani has not appealed the ruling. ISNA quoted Eshaq Jahangiri, head of Rafsanjani’s campaign, that there would be no objection to the Guardian Council’s decision.

“Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani and his campaign as a whole entered the field on the basis of following the rule of law and morals, and will continue in this way as well,” Jahangiri said.

Can’t We Just Talk About This?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, said he would challenge the disqualification of his right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, calling him “a righteous person and beneficial for the country”:  “In my opinion there will be no problem with the Leader, and I will take up this issue until the last moment with him,..I am hopeful the problem will be solved.”

The pro-Ahmadinejad website Iran News Network claimed that a number of campaigners and activists sympathetic to Mashaei had been arrested or brought in for questioning. Several pro-Mashai websites were also blocked.

No Room for Dissent

Iran Election Watch noted that three recent speeches by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei indicated concerns about security as the election approached:

Khamenei urged that everybody “obey the law” in case of disagreement with the election result. In the third speech, he asked voters to choose a “resistant” president and he warned the electorate, much more than in the two previous speeches, to be wary of what he called the “enemy’s scheme.”

Addressing those security concerns, Iranian authorities launched a public crackdown on dissent before next month’s presidential election. Two men charged with espionage and waging war against God were executed. Activists have been arrested. Campaigners have been summoned for questioning. Political prisoners in some of the country’s most notorious jails have had their parole or visiting rights withdrawn and some transferred to solitary confinement.

The Guardian has launched an interactive guide to Iran’s prisoners of conscience.

Zahra’s Campaign Continues

Zahra, a fictional character who was the center of the 2009 book Zahra’s Paradise, continues to pick up support for her candidacy. Latest endorsements include those of lawyer Mehrengiz Kar and Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.

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