Iran’s Election Just Got Really Interesting

The Guardian Council has now barred the surprise candidacies of former president Rafsanjani and the Ahmadi-allied Mashaei. Rumors over the weekend said the rationale for disqualifying Rafsanjani would be his age (78), and security services had already been readying themselves for negative reaction to today’s announcement. Yesterday, Yasmin Alem noted the problems that Ayatollah Khamenei and his allies could face by shutting out Rafsanjani:

[Using his old age as] a pretext would expose the Guardian Council to potential ridicule, since its powerful secretary, Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, is eight years Rafsanjani’s senior. Another pretext could be to accuse the former president — as the minister of intelligence did a few days before his registration — of complacency in the 2009 revolt. But that would undermine the Supreme Leader’s own credibility since he reappointed Rafsanjani in 2012 as the chairman of the Expediency Council, a body that advises him directly.

Alem added that there may be consequences for ruling out Mashaei as well:

[There is] a risk that Ahmadinejad could go ballistic if his dauphin is barred from the race — a spectacle that would be problematic for at least two reasons. First, the president is technically in charge of conducting the election, meaning that the ruling clique’s hopes of an incident-free ballot could be dashed. Second, Ahmadinejad has threatened to blackmail regime insiders with a supposedly thick dossier of damning documents that implicate officials close to Khamenei in corruption scandals. But the Supreme Leader might well call Ahmadinejad’s bluff; experience has shown that the president typically caves when faced with Khamenei’s immense institutional power. Even if he doesn’t, Khamenei loyalists have laid the groundwork to soften the blow, announcing in advance that anyone who interferes with the electoral process or questions its results is doing the bidding of Iran’s enemies.

Both candidates can still appeal directly to Khamenei for inclusion in the race. Abbas Milani recently summarized why he thinks Rafsanjani would be trouble for the Supreme Leader:

In a sense, the Rafsanjani candidacy has put Khamenei and his IRGC allies in a lose-lose situation. If they allow him to run, they have, in effect, accepted defeat in their eight-year project of eliminating him and his moderate allies in favor of Ahmadinejad’s harebrained economic ideas and foreign policy adventurism. If they block his candidacy, though, they won’t have the “epic” election they so desperately need. With no economic rebound in sight, a controversial election will only worsen Iran’s politically explosive climate. Some IRGC commanders are warning of post-election riots not just in Tehran but around the country; they predict a “Russian style” riot that, according to IRGC’s political commissar, might be significantly worse and more widespread than the 2009 demonstrations, which were concentrated in Tehran. These anxieties indicate that a long hot summer is ahead in Iran.

Meanwhile, Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports that, with the election nearing, opposition activists are being increasingly targeted:

Iran has launched a public crackdown on dissent before next month’s presidential election, executing two men charged with espionage and waging war against God, arresting a group of activists and summoning campaigners 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.

Internet access in the country has been throttled, another sign that the regime is trying to stifle dissent. Previous Dish coverage of the election here and here.