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Situation Assessment 04 June, 2013

The Path to Iran’s 2013 Presidential Elections

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Rachid Yalouh

Dr. Rachid Yalouh is a Researcher focused on Iranian-Arab relations and domestic Iranian politics, having previously been a journalist specializing in Iranian affairs. To date, he has completed academic research and translations between Arabic and Persian in the fields of culture, media and Iranian Studies. He holds a BA in Arabic Language and Literature from the University of Ibn Zohr in Agadir and an MA in Persian Language and Literature from the Tarbiat Modares University, in Tehran. He completed a PhD on Arab-Persian cultural interactions at Mohammed V University in Rabat. Dr. Yalouh is a member of the Moroccan Association for Oriental Studies.

With preparations for Iran’s 11th presidential election well under way, the Iranian political scene is preoccupied with the upcoming electoral conflict, a conflict that could write a new chapter of political practice in the country or entrench the hegemony of the ruling regime throughout the state’s centers of power and decision making. In this context, this article attempts to determine the most important factors that will influence the electoral process, including Ahmadinejad’s presidential experience; the challenges candidates will face during the elections; the risks embedded in Iranian politics; and the primary motivations of Iranian political blocs as they go to the polls.

Ahmadinejad's Track Record

Given the deep political and economic impact of Ahmadinejad's eight years in power, the outcomes of his rule now form the backbone of the discussions on the eve of the presidential elections. The present analysis shall limit itself to a broad overview of the most important end results of Ahmadinejad's presidency in the realms of both economics and politics, with the aim of making the Iranian setting more comprehensible to readers at this much anticipated juncture.

Political Outcomes     

Ahmadinejad began his time in office in 2005 by undertaking structural modifications to government administrations, which resulted in the removal of a large number of administrators and technocrats associated either with his foes in the reformist movement, or those close to former president Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani. He attempted to use the same methods during his second term, this time turning them against officials close to Supreme Guide Khamenei.[1] This policy was the direct cause of increased tensions between the Iranian president and the supreme guide, the parliament and the Revolutionary Guard. As a result, governmental affairs became mired in repeated crises over the past eight years, crises that reached a climax when Ahmadinejad was brought before parliament for questioning in March 2012.[2] In February of the following year, his Minister of Labor, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, was impeached after questioning before parliament.[3] In addition, Ahmadinejad's presidency was wrought by tumult because a number of high-level officials appointed by the president during his term in office were dismissed, including 13 governmental ministers and 14 presidential advisers,[4] as well as clashes that pit the president against a number of political opponents, influential religious leaders, and the judiciary.[5] A relevant example of behavior that led to conflict was Ahmadinejad's bombastic use of language during a speech in which he referenced the role of the "Awaited Mahdi"[6] in his government, and his excessive use of Iranian street language in official speeches and statements.[7]

Ahmadinejad failed to change some of the fundamental choices made by the regime, whether in terms of domestic or foreign policy, though he did manage to deeply impact Iranian governmental and political practices. Some may choose to view his changes positively, seeing them as an attempt to restore the importance of "popular leadership" in rhetoric and public administration, taking the presidency away from the elite.[8] Similarly, this outlook can be used to understand his attempt to unsettle the hegemonic grip supporters of the Revolutionary Guard and Khamenei have on power and decision-making.

However, there is another prism through which the president's rule can be observed that shows Ahmadinejad's desire to entrench popular power and transform it into the practice of political populism. His confrontational political behavior has also led to the president's loss of partners and allies in the state apparatus and decision-making centers, a fact that has gravely impacted the implementation of his governmental plans, leading the country into a state of financial and administrative crisis.

 

This study was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.

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[1] Under governmental pretexts, President Ahmadinejad attempted to intervene in the Revolutionary Guard's economic activities, but his attempts were in vain due to the influence and power of the guard. The president also failed to make Iran's Intelligence Services subservient to the government.

[2] Dehghan, "Iran's president Ahmadinejad," 2013.

[3] This parliamentary hearing was the scene of a confrontation between President Ahmadinejad and Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani, following the former's presentation of a video showing one of Larijani's brothers (Fazel Larijani) offering to use his family's power and influence to provide a business man with lucrative privileges. See: Farid, "Iran: Will Thieving Officials,"2013.

[4] Yalouh, "Why was Mottaki Dismissed?," 2011.

[5] Erdbrink, "Iran's political infighting," 2013.

[6] Swails, "Ahmadinejad awaits," 2006.

[7] Yalouh, "The Iranian Presidency," p. 98.

[8] "Popular leadership" as a concept is one of the main pillars on which Iranian political discourse has been based following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.