The first signs of the upcoming Iranian Presidential elections, scheduled to take place in the summer of 2013, are becoming apparent. Recent actions taken by supporters of Khamenei, as well as by members of the Khatami, Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad camps, provide evidence of these preparations.
The latest development in the run-up to the presidential elections is former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's formal announcement of his intention to run. Analysts predict that Mottaki will be the candidate of the fundamentalist bloc. In addition to being close to Supreme Leader Khamenei, Mottaki also belongs to the inner circle of Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Iran's parliament). As part of his campaign, Mottaki apparently intends to build on his image as a persecuted minister in the Ahmadinejad cabinet: the attempt to oust him from his position while he was on a mission abroad had negative repercussions for President Ahmadinejad.
The Islamic Consultative Assembly has also been discussing draft legislation to reorganize the presidential elections. The bill, which was passed and is now pending implementation, places even more obstacles in the path of presidential candidates. Members of Iran's Council of Experts and certain members of the Consultative Assembly were able to limit the bill's scope through various amendments made to the draft legislation, resulting in the excision of Article 7 for being unconstitutional. The excised article would have required any prospective candidate to obtain the support of 25 members of the Council of Experts to vouch for the sincerity of his religiosity, as well as the testimony of 100 members of the Consultative Assembly who would testify that the prospective candidate had the requisite administrative competence. The new legislation is further expected to take away the Minister of the Interior's responsibility for oversight of the electoral process and hand it over to the Attorney General, who will preside over an elections committee.
It is abundantly clear that Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards continue to neutralize their political opponents-both within their own conservative camp and in other camps-and prevent them from reaching positions of authority. Sidelining Ahmadinejad and his supporters is a priority for them. Such efforts began months ago, in the form of accusations and judicial prosecutions as well as attempts at political isolation. Today, they have reached the level of legalized isolation through the Consultative Assembly.
Ahmadinejad reacted to the proposed bill with great anger, warning of the consequences of a small group tampering with the will of the Iranian people. According to the incumbent President, compelling a presidential candidate to seek the support of members of parliament makes light of the principle of popular sovereignty, since there is no comparison between the levels of popular support for a President and a parliamentarian.
Iran's presidents are limited by the constitution to serving no more than two terms in consecutive succession, although there are no limits on further re-elections. Ahmadinejad's second term will end in June of this year, and he is apparently making efforts to promote a presidential candidate from within his camp. This is likely to be Mojtabi Thamra Hashemi, one of the President's main deputies. It is difficult to predict how successful Ahmadinejad will be in this endeavor, however, given the number of assemblies and other constitutional bodies which are controlled by his opponents within the Khamenei camp and the Revolutionary Guards, and which stand in his way.
An opinion poll carried out by the Iran Foundation in December 2012 revealed that the two most popular candidates for the Iranian presidency amongst the survey's respondents are Mohammed Khatami and Rahim Mashaei, who is Ahmadinejad's co-father-in-law. Yet observers consider the entry of Mashaei into the political fray to be highly unlikely. The controversial Mashaei is accused by those in the ruling bloc of ideological deviance and working to limit the authority of the official religious establishment. For many, former president Khatami, a reformist, remains a strong contender, especially given that he has not had any confrontations with Supreme Leader Khamenei. In fact, despite the many incidents and setbacks suffered by the reformists, as well as the accusations leveled at them in the aftermath of the 2009 elections, Khatami has maintained a solid relationship with the establishment. His participation in the 2012 legislative elections was a clear indicator of this conciliatory attitude.
Khatami may well present a convenient way out for Supreme Leader Khamanei from the present domestic political crisis as well as the country's international political and economic isolation. It is highly likely that there will be a partial breakthrough in the cases of the two detained reformist leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, as well as in those of a number of other imprisoned leaders of the reform movement. Such a breakthrough might include releasing them from prison and freeing them from detention orders as well as putting an end to their harassment by the security services, in exchange for not engaging in any political activities.
Clues to the intentions of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani might be found in his latest moves. In the final weeks of 2012, Rafsanjani's daughter Faezeh Hashemi was arrested, and he called his son Mahdi Hashemi back from London, despite the fact that the latter was wanted by Iran's judicial authorities because of allegations of involvement in the 2009 protest movement. Mahdi Hashemi was indeed detained upon his arrival at Imam Khomeini International Airport and remains under investigation. After visiting his son in Evin Prison, Rafsanjani declared that his son, "like all the children of the Iranian people, deserves punishment when he errs". Some analysts took this as an attempt by the former President to rehabilitate his public image in the run-up to the presidential elections, following accusations against him and his family of corruption and exploitation of public office. Such an explanation would also account for the fact that he called on the judicial and security authorities who assumed office during the early days of the Islamic Revolution to account for the circumstances of the trials, executions and appropriations of funds which took place during that period. The age factor might prevent Rafsanjani from running for another presidential term, but he might be able to use his political credibility for the benefit of another candidate, quite likely Mohammed Khatami.
Another factor is the supposedly secret negotiations which Khamanei supporters, alongside the Revolutionary Guards, have been holding with the United States. If leaks about such negotiations are true and if the talks succeed, then this would not be to the benefit of the opposition, particularly given the fact that the US no longer makes any demands concerning democracy and human rights and focuses only on the nuclear issue. An American priority at the present moment is achieving a sectarian balance in the Middle East region, which would be impossible without the presence of the Iranian regime and its survival in its present form.
Without doubt, the upcoming presidential elections will prove to be decisive for Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard. It has become necessary to arrive at a solution which brings the Islamic Republic out of its present impasse. The Supreme Leader of the Revolution and his supporters stand accused of spreading financial corruption throughout the organs of the state, in the face of glaring poverty and social distress within Iranian society. After the excessive concentration of power in the hands of this leadership, the reinstatement of the principle of sovereignty of the people would be a major priority in finding such a solution.
* This article was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.