Sunday, May 12, 2013

Iran's Registered Candidates

Yesterday was the deadline for candidates to register for next month's presidential elections in Iran, and Farideh Farhi has a good analysis of the field.  One candidate, a power center unto himself, as former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the pragmatist technocrat who served from 1989 until 1997 and has been a major player and fixer in Iranian politics since the 1980's.  His backing for the reformist Mir Hussain Mousavi in 2009 was significant to the Green Wave and subsequent protests, though Rafsanjani's instincts for political self-preservation have since led him to distance himself from the reformist camp and on occasion kowtow to Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i.  Still, Rafsanjani does not like Iran's direction over the past eight years, and is worrisome enough to Khamene'i that his family has been harassed, presumably to keep him in line.  Still, this time around and with the backing for reformist former president Muhammad Khatami, he looks to be the reformist standardbearer, as bizarre as that might seem given his place within the system.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad himself is clearly backing his current chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, whom he may hope to use the same way Vladimir Putin used Dmitri Medvedev in Russia, as a closely allied seatwarmer to get around term limits.  Mashaie is probably the top-line candidate least likely to actually be permitted to stand, since Khamene'i and his allies on the Council of Guardians have been intent on limiting Ahmadinejad's power since shortly after the last elections, and have targeted Mashaie in the past as an unacceptable officeholder.

Ahmadinejad himself is usually called a "principlist," which is a translation back into English of a Farsi term used for American "neoconservatives," but that faction now exists independently of him and is likely to coalesce around current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.  Like Ahmadinejad, Jalili is an Iran-Iraq War veteran, and probably has ties to the military-economic establishment that promoted Ahmadinejad to power in 2005.  I'm not clear what sort of networks might be supporting Jalili and Mashaie respectively if the latter is approved as a candidate.

Farhi also notes the "traditional conservatives" in the mold of Khamene'i himself:
The most important conservative alliance – involving former foreign minister Velayati, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and former Parliament speaker Gholamreza Haddad Adel – has also not been able to decide which one of them should run. All three have now registered, and there is a real possibility that both Qalibaf and Velayati will run. Finally, there are the old-style traditional conservatives. Deputy speaker of the Parliament Mohammad Hassan Abutorabifard has registered on their behalf but so has former foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki who chose to ignore the choice of traditional conservatives and enter the race himself.
Rafsanjani’s entry into the fray with solid support from Khatami and his followers will force the conservatives not only to scramble for a consensus candidate, but also search for one who is relatively popular or at least better known. The opinion polls reportedly suggest that the most popular conservative candidate is Qalibaf because of his widely hailed management of the city of Tehran. He also has quite a following in his home province of Khorasan Razavi and where he won in the first round of the 2005 presidential election (Khorasan Razavi is one of the most important provinces in electoral calculations given its population of over 5.6 million, second only to Tehran as the country’s most populous province).
This is a ridiculous number of candidates, and even as we wait for the Council of Guardians to approve a final candidate list over the next ten days, it sounds like the story to watch will be which conservatives drop out.  There are also two reformist candidates, Muhammad-Reza Aref and Hassan Rowhani, who might eventually drop out in favor of Rafsanjani, though I suspect they will wait to make sure he is not rejected by the Guardians.



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