The Iranian press has, as expected, fixated on the ongoing presidential election registration process, with more than 330 people signing up as to seek the Guardian Council’s approval to run on June 14th through today, with more to come tomorrow. In the midst of the candidate registration process, many commentators remain transfixed by the continued murky state of the electoral landscape, as many major potential candidates – such as the polarizing former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – have yet to register. On the conservative side, although Principlist former Majlis Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel registered today, his partners in the 2+1 coalition of traditional conservatives – Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati are likely to enter as well and decide which of them will step aside later. A different Principlist alliance of potential candidates – the so-called “Coalition of Five,” which included more famous figures like Manouchehr Mottaki and Mohammad Reza Bahonar, decided upon Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard to represent them in the election, which also includes other well known politicians like former Revolutionary Guards Commander Mohsen Rezai and former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian. This leaves the Iranian electoral landscape subject to much change with just over a month before the election. As a writer in the moderate Mardom Salari wrote yesterday, “None of the political factions have succeeded in introducing their main candidate and there have been no signs indicating such a thing is about to happen, which has shocked analysts and experts.”
Perhaps the most heated writing in the press this week has been former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has been savaged in many conservative editorials. For example, a piece in Khorasan wrote that Rafsanjani was being ludicrous in accusing conservative reactionaries of suffocating society with restrictions of the press and academia, arguing that “Those who remember your presidency know and recall that the most restrictions and banning orders for the media took place under you.” Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of Kayhan, essentially called the former president a coward for knowing that, if he enters, he would be allowed to run by the Guardian Council, but would then have to face the humiliation of seeing how he would do in the election itself: “Mr. Hashemi knows well that he doesn’t have a major public base of support and is not a heavyweight among the candidates for the 11th election.”
However, reformists and moderates who have been calling for Rafsanjani’s presence have been equally vocal in supporting the former president, citing his management experience and his knowledge as the needed antidote for eight years of economic, political, and diplomatic mismanagement under Ahmadinejad. While fearing that Rafsanjani won’t enter the race, Akbar Torkan penned a Mardom Salari commentary entitled “Iran Needs Hashemi,” arguing, “in the current situation, Iran is in need of a hard-working, efficient and compassionate father…Among the active political figures, only Hashemi is strong enough to play this important role.” (See full summary in appendix.) Commentators also hit back at the former president’s motivated critics on the right. Former MP Ali Asgar wrote in Mardom Salari on Monday that those who seek to damage Rafsanjani’s reputation are jealous of a man who has contributed so much to the nation, dating back to his political activism before the revolution and his role as a close ally of Khomeini during the 1979 revolution. And in the reformist daily Etemaad, Mojtaba Hosseini wrote that the conservatives’ attacks on Rafsanjani are out of fear, as he will be a formidable candidate with the reputation and political capital to energize a strong base of voters: “They know that Hashemi is not the same as the dissident candidates of the last election and that he is not the beloved favorite of the reformists…They know better than anyone that when Hashemi finds a solution and makes a decision, they cannot stand in his way.” (See full summary in appendix.) Sadegh Zibakalam, a reformist political commentator and professor, suggests we will see much more of a battle in the near future, as he told Arman that he expects a late entry into the race by Rafsanjani, after which “the full arsenal of the Principlists will be put into action against him.” (See appendix for full summary.)
Of course, the apparent Israeli strike within Syria’s borders over last weekend ensured that this week’s Iranian press coverage was not all about the election. Many sources, as expected, saw the strike as more proof that Israel was behind the rebels in Syria and was trying to destabilize the region. In the conservative Siasat-e Rooz, Qassem Ghaffuri wrote, “Once again, the Zionists’ crime has proved to the world that the main cause of the current crisis in the Middle East is the Zionist regime.” Mehdi Motaharnia in Khorasan wrote that the attack was an American-Israeli operation to keep the war going in Syria, putting pressure on Iran given its allegiance to Assad, and to provide “CPR for the Syrian Rebels.” In the reformist Etemaad, Ali Bigdeli took a slightly less emotional approach, suggesting that there may indeed have been dangerous missiles with chemical or biological capabilities in Syria’s control, and that Israel, although it should be condemned for its actions, may have both been acting on American and Arab request and may have been worried such missiles could fall to Hezbollah if the Assad regime were to fall.
APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)
In an interview with the reformist-leaning Arman daily, reformist political analyst and professor Sadegh Zibakalam suggests that, as the registration of candidates continues, the reformist camp is maintaining unity that will help it in the election. “The situation of the reformists is far more coherent than that of the Principlists, both in terms of the number of candidates and in terms of their action plans.” Zibakalam also predicts that Rafsanjani will indeed enter the race, and that he will do so with the full support of the reformists: “In the coming days, he will announce his registration as a candidate for president, and the majority of reformists have already expressed support for his candidacy.” If he does indeed enter, Zibakalam expects a very heated battle: “Upon the announcement by Hashemi that he intends to enter the race, the full arsenal of the Principlists will be put into action against him.” When asked where Rafsanjani would find his base, Zibakalam replies, “All people and layers of society who are worried for the future of the country and who are unhappy about the economic situation in the country.”
The hardline Kayhan editor Shariatmadari writes that, for various reasons, three highly hyped potential candidates – Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Mashaei – will not be factors in the upcoming presidential election. He begins with a detailed argument that Rafsanjani is a spent force in Iranian politics: “Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, because he knows that his candidacy will be approved, will not enter the election! Why?! Because after registering for candidacy, it becomes time for the election, and Mr. Hashemi, just like the rest of the candidates, must bring his candidacy into the square of public choice, and this is the very square where Mr. Rafsanjani is afraid of entering… Mr. Hashemi knows well that he doesn’t have a major public base of support and is not a heavyweight among the candidates for the 11th election.” He criticizes Rafsanjani for implying he’ll enter the race if called upon by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei when “not even the people closest to the Supreme Leader” know for whom he will vote. Meanwhile, he writes that former President Khatami will be denied entrance if he registers due to his assistance of the “fifth column” in the protests of 2009. He writes that the Ahmadinejad camp’s candidates, or the “Deviant Circle,” have no hope either, and are resorting in vain to trying to forge an alliance with the “seditionists” of the reformist camp.
In the reformist daily Etemaad, Hosseini writes that the consternation from the right wing of the Iranian political elite surrounding the possible candidacy of Rafsanjani is based on fear and worry. He says that the ex-president only was pulled into considering a run after popular appeals, and said that he would consider a run only after meeting with Khamenei. He writes that the right wing is looking nervously through one eye at whatever candidate emerges from Ahmadinejad’s government and through the other at Hashemi in anticipation of his decision. He says it is this fear that is launching the torrents of “Hashemi-phobia” from the conservative media, which is “the only solution that they are left with.” He says that it is “the right-wingers’ fear and anxiety that makes them say unremittingly, “Hashemi must not enter” or “If he enters, he will lose yet again.” He says much of the fear comes from the fact that Hashemi is a pragmatic candidate who appeals to more than a narrow base: “They know that Hashemi is not the same as the dissident candidates of the last election and that he is not the beloved favorite of the reformists…They know better than anyone that when Hashemi finds a solution and makes a decision, they cannot stand in his way.”
Akbar Torkan writes that the dire condition that the Ahmadinejad administration has left Iran and its economy in demands a president with great experience as a manager and a strong personality, and that the ideal choice would be Rafsanjani. He emphasizes, “Iran today needs Hashemi so that he may use the strength of his qualities and the high potential of those in his team to reduce our problems.” However, he writes that as Iran waits for Rafsanjani, “all the signs” indicate that the ex-president has not yet made a decision, and thus it is unlikely he will register this week. He considers this a great shame, as, “in the current situation, Iran is in need of a hard-working, efficient and compassionate father…Among the active political figures, only Hashemi is strong enough to play this important role.” He writes that Rafsanjani’s indecision comes at a time when “over the past 8 years around 800 trillion in foreign exchange earnings have been mismanaged and assigned to imports, while future government earnings will be decreased, as can be seen by the issuance of government bonds. Between that and the list of foreign creditors, people are not expecting any miracles from the next president, he says. That said, he argues, there is plenty of room for a competent and experienced manager to come and implement logical policies to calm the economic situation of the nation for the benefit of all, and thus the “supporters of the Revolution” are still hopeful for Rafsanjani to enter the election.
In the daily editorial for the conservative Khorasan, Shojaei questions comments made by Rafsanjani hitting out at certain “reactionary” conservatives whom he accused of trying to impose restrictions on society in manners reminiscent of the Shah’s era, arguing that Rafsanjani is not without his own negative track record in this field. “Although Mr. Hashemi is of the opinion that the media are now under restrictions and pressure by various people and institutions, and many outlets have become afflicted with “self-censorship” and avoid telling the truth, and that it is largely one intellectual line that the national press must hold, and also that unfortunately many universities do not have the necessary political support for various reasons…and that many news outlets are not being fair and equitable in their criticisms over the economic situation in the country, instead resorting to slander.” Shojaei insists that Rafsanjani must pay attention to his own background before he complains of such supposed conditions. He reminds him that many – including opposition supporters, many of whom are no longer in the country – frequently said that he had blood on his hands for the way he kept an iron fist on dissent during his presidency. “…Those who remember your presidency know and recall that the most restrictions and banning orders for the media took place under you…”