Updated: May 29, 2021 8:15:44 am
Written by Farnaz Fassihi
Candidates in Iran’s presidential elections have always been strictly vetted, and those deemed insufficiently loyal to the Islamic Revolution were disqualified. Within those limits, contenders held differing views on easing domestic restrictions or dealing with the West, and sometimes the victor was even a surprise.
Now even minor differences that give voters some semblance of a choice appear to have been erased.
The candidates in the election scheduled for June 18 either espouse deeply conservative positions aligned with those of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or are little known, with no voter base and no chance to win.
And one candidate in particular is leading: Ebrahim Raisi, the current judiciary chief, appointed by Khamenei, who has a long history of involvement in human rights abuses, and who lost in 2013 in a surprise victory by the outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani.
With no credible challenger, Raisi is expected to win this time. Any serious competition has been winnowed from the race. Even some members of the Revolutionary Guard, known for their strong hostility to any political dissent, described the election as anti-democratic.
The Guardian Council, a 12-person body responsible for approving candidates, disqualified anyone who might shift the vote against Raisi, who, as a prosecutor and as a judge, has overseen the executions of minors and dissidents.
On Thursday, Khamenei publicly endorsed the Guardian Council’s final decision. He said council members had conducted their duty and called on the public to “not listen to anyone saying it’s useless, don’t go to the election polls, we won’t go.”
The council’s decision and Khamenei’s endorsement of it have rattled political circles. The reformist party announced for the first time that it has no candidate in the race.
Analysts say Raisi’s presidency would finalize a plan years in the making for conservatives to consolidate power, take over all branches of the government, marginalize any reform faction and severely restrict the internal power fights within the Islamic Republic.
“Today we are witnessing an unabashed attack on any semblance of republican principles in favor of the absolute power of the supreme leader,” said Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University.
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