Iranian Election Update

Voting ended at 11 pm in Iran. Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports that a second round seems likely:

Election officials at Iran’s interior ministry were yet to announce final results but a high turnout after a last-minute excitement caused by the reformists’ endorsement of a moderate candidate boosted the chances of a second round next Friday. Hassan Rouhani, the moderate cleric backed by reformists and many opposition figures, and Tehran’s pragmatic mayor, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, looked likely to emerge on top, with the chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, thought to be the favourite candidate of the clerical establishment, falling behind.

He also points out:

In a strange paradox, the state is so keen during elections to showcase a country ostensibly united despite it differences that normal stringent rules do not apply. Thus a picture published by a conservative news agency showed a young woman with virtually no head-covering, her headscarf loosely tied at the back of her head. Iranian women voting abroad reported that they were able to vote without wearing the hijab despite normally strict rules imposed by embassies.

The BBC, meanwhile, complained that Iran had launched a new campaign of intimidation against staff working for its Persian service in London. Relatives of 15 journalists have been harassed, summoned for questioning and threatened.

Regardless of which candidate is ultimately declared the winner, Reza Aslan thinks we might end up missing Ahmadinejad and how extensively he took on Iran’s clerical establishment:

In his second term, Ahmadinejad steadily chipped away at the clergy’s religious, economic, and political control. First, he started questioning the mullahs’ self-proclaimed status as the arbiters of Islamic morality — and especially its obsession with proper Islamic dress. He condemned the actions of the country’s dreaded morality police, saying, “it is an insult to ask a man and woman walking on the street about their relation to each other.” Ahmadinejad’s media advisor, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, was even arrested for printing articles criticizing the law forcing women to wear veils.

The president then began repeatedly criticizing the clergy for their enormous wealth, which stood in stark contrast to most Iranians’ economic suffering under international sanctions. In a surprise move, Ahmadinejad curtailed the amount of money that the government pays to religious institutions, which have ballooned over the past three decades into a source of tremendous personal enrichment for many in the clerical elite.

Ahmadinejad also took a number of bold steps to wrest political power away from the mullahs. He ceased attending meetings of the Expediency Council, one of Iran’s many Orwellian committees whose purpose is to protect the political interests of the clergy. When Iran’s oil minister stepped down, Ahmadinejad took over the ministry himself until a permanent replacement could be found, establishing an extremely significant presidential precedent in the process. … But Ahmadinejad’s challenge to the clerical regime goes beyond any single skirmish with the supreme leader. Perhaps more important is his very public questioning of the foundation of the Islamic Republic’s political and religious authority. “Administering the country should not be left to the [supreme] leader, the religious scholars, and other [clerics],” the president said in 2011.

Aslan adds that “the one thing that the top contenders to replace [Ahmadinejad] have in common is their comical obeisance to the supreme leader”. Mackey and Enduring America are still live-blogging. Our earlier coverage from today is here.