This week in the Iranian media, we witnessed reactions to the surprising number of recognized candidates who registered – many on the final day – to run in June 14th presidential election. Some commentators on both the left and right wings of the Iranian press spectrum suggested that the number of candidates who registered on the conservative Principlist side poses a serious risk to that front’s chances. Even with the potential for a whittling of the Principlist slate via the ongoing vetting of the Guardian Council, which is due to finish on May 21, the disorganized approach from Principlist groups who had planned to coordinate and enter a small number of unity candidates is disturbing, said Mohammad Eskandari in the hardline daily Javan, particularly with the surprising late entrance of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani buoying the reformists’ presidential hopes. He wrote that he could envision different Principlist coalitions like the 2+1 Coalition, the Coalition of Five, and the Resistance Front putting individual ambitions aside and deciding on a unified approach. “However,” he continued, “the second possible path, which is for the unification process among the Principlists to remain fruitless, could translate to a major defeat for the Principlists, and thus allow the reformists to take the presidency.”
Understandably, this has led to some glee from commentators with reformist sympathies, as Rafsanjani remains far and away the most viable candidate in the reformist camp, leaving them no such indecision. Referring first to the 2+1 group of former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, former Majlis speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Javad Qorbani in Mardom-Salari marveled at how among this coalition set up to choose a single candidate most likely to win the election, all three registered because, as he sees it, “Each of the three candidates thinks himself to be the best.” He pointed to similar disunity in the Coalition of Five members Mohammad Hassan Aboutourabi-Fard and Manouchehr Mottaki both running. He concluded, “These disagreements show not only the Principlists’ lack of a plan and contradict their claim of unity, but they also indicate that those who claim to be Principlists are actually solitary individuals who have found the way up the ladder of power by sticking with the Principlist movement.” Other reformists suggested the entry of Rafsanjani was a “shock” that would force the Principlists into discipline out of necessity. Hassan Rasuli in Bahar argued that the conservative establishment would have to find a strategic choice who could appeal to a wide base, and guessed as to who that would be: “Among all the registered candidates, Mr. Jalili – who has good relations with the younger, newer wing of the Principlists and on a related note serves with Mr. Ahmadinejad on the Supreme National Security Council – has a higher chance than others to take the central place in the elections as a rival for Mr. Hashemi.” (This idea of Jalili as the obvious choice is far from unanimous in the Iranian media, with one Principlist MP telling Tehran-e Emrooz, “Qalibaf’s experience in various management areas as well has his performance in all executive duties have shown that he has the qualifications to become the focus of the Principlists’ unity.”)
The media has also been rife with reactions to the registration of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the controversial Ahmadinejad advisor and central figure in what critics call the “Deviant Current” that surrounds the president. The president has been criticized for his “illegal” act in accompanying his protégé to the registration, with Ali Rezaei writing in Javan that the president’s legal justification for his actions are ludicrous: “Another justification that the president and his entourage used is that the president had taken the day off on that day and he was using his personal identity, not his legal identity! Even if this justification is made in a kindergarten, the children will laugh at it since any illiterate knows someone serving as president cannot separate his personal identity from his legal identity under any circumstance.” In the same paper, pointing to arguments from the president’s entourage aimed at preventing the Guardian Council from disqualifying Mashaei, Yadollah Javani argued that the legal duty of the council must be performed without interference, and ignorance of the Council’s role and independence is tantamount to lawbreaking and reminiscent of the defiance that marked the 2009 election protests. Connecting complaints against the Guardian Council to the “sedition” of that year, he wrote, “According to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, the roots of the events of 1388 were a disregard for the law.”
APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)
In the hardline Javan, Eskandari expresses worry that the conservatives of the Principlist movement, who should be poised to easily win the presidency, are putting that goal in serious jeopardy through their own disorganization and lack of consensus on a candidate. He writes that these elections are at such a crucial time that the importance of getting them right is magnified, saying, “Iran, the region, and the world are poised at a historical turning point where any move on this chessboard has the potential to be crucial and fateful,” particularly due to Iran’s current role as the “standard-bearer of independent nations.” He argues that while a Principlist victory would have immensely positive ramifications, “a victory by the reformists, and particularly by Hashemi, would have to be considered a backward step.” However, he says, given the current state of affairs in the Principlist camp, Rafsanjani’s “arrival at the 90th minute” and his ability to generate momentum has meant the prospect of Principlist defeat is a real one if the conservatives remain complacent. “Unfortunately, the state of the Principlists’ election planning is chaotic and there is no think tank to lead and organize the number of candidates. A high number of people in the Principlist movement have made themselves presidential candidates and each is based in a different branch of the movement.” He criticizes the inability of Principlist subgroups that should have been far more organized among themselves, such as the Resistance Front (which includes candidates Jalili and Lankerani) and the 2+1 coalition (made up of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Ali Akbar Velayati, and Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel) to register only one candidate each. He writes that the number of Principlist candidates will come down with the Guardian Council’s vetting, but that groups like the abovementioned alliances and the “Coalition of Five” will ideally get the number of their candidates down to two at most, which would at least be likely to guarantee that the election goes to a second round. But he remains worried: “However, the second possible path, which is for the unification process among the Principlists to remain fruitless, could translate to a major defeat for the Principlists, and thus allow the reformists to take the presidency.”
In the reformist daily Bahar, Rasuli argues that Rafsanjani’s late entrance into the presidential election has shocked the reformists’ opponents both in the Ahmadinejad camp and the Principlist establishment. He writes that the Principlists in particular were given a sense of shock and factional uncertainty regarding their own strategy for the elections, as they had not been counting on a major reformist candidate such as Rafsanjani or former President Khatami to enter. He writes that looking at Principlist websites or looking at “newspapers such as Kayhan, the intellectual tribune of the movement” in advance of Rafsanjani’s entrance, it was clear that the conservatives had no expectation of a serious rival in the election. But now, the Principlists will be forced to sow unity among their varied ranks – or at least attempt do so. He suggests that one candidate above all would be ideal Principlist choice: “in the opinion of this author, amongst all the registered candidates, Mr. Jalili – who has good relations with the younger, newer wing of the Principlists and on a related note serves with Mr. Ahmadinejad on the Supreme National Security Council – has a higher chance than others to take the central place in the elections as a rival for Mr. Hashemi.” Meanwhile, he writes, Ahmadinejad’s camp, featuring Mashaei, appears to be seeking to sow controversy and chaos in the aftermath of Rafsanjani’s entry.
Following upon its articles last week insisting that Rafsanjani’s lack of a popular base and his near-certain failure in the election would keep him on the sidelines of the election, the Kayhan editorial by Imani argues that his entrance into the race does not change the fact that the ex-president has serious doubts about his ability to succeed in the race – and with good reason. Imani writes that the hesitation of the candidate comes from his own knowledge that his supposed supporters among the reformist front can’t be trusted to vote for him. He says that Hashemi remembers well how he gave support, via “secret” influence over his Kargozaran party, to Mohammad Khatami’s election effort in 1997, but that within 2 years, he received “payback” in the form of vilification from reformist activists.
In the hardline Javan daily, Javani writes that there is a great threat from certain candidates – most notably Mashaei – of unconstitutional activities that seek to interfere with the legal process under which the Guardian Council is vetting candidates. He points to the way in which President Ahmadinejad accompanied his advisor on the occasion of his registration as evidence of the attempt to pressure the Guardian Council, which should be left to its independent duty. He also says that those who criticize the Council in advance, suggesting that its vetting is a hindrance of democracy on political grounds, are mistaken, because it is an important duty to “prevent improper individuals from becoming president.” He asks those candidates who accuse the Council of plotting to interfere, “Is it their view that all 686 registered candidates be allowed to run in the election?” He insists that all candidates remain silent and wait for the results of the vetting, because anything else is tantamount to ignorance and violation of the constitution. “According to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, the roots of the events of 1388 were a disregard for the law.”
In the moderate daily Mardom-Salari, Qorbani writes that the Principlists are in complete disarray, as can be seen from the chaotic nature of their candidate registration. Particularly, he points at the fact that two notable Principlist coalitions that were set up to choose a single candidate failed to limit their registrations to a single candidate, showing a lack of discipline and unity. Even though the 2+1 coalition was designed for only one candidate, deemed to be the most likely to win, to come forward as a candidate, as he puts it, “Each of the three candidates thinks himself to be the best.” He writes that words from Haddad-Adel indicating that all three candidates registered to ensure that at least one of them emerged from the vetting process smacks of insincerity and it laughable. “With the knowledge that we have of the Guardian Council, if the eligibility of these three candidates is not confirmed, whose eligibility will be?” He also points to the fact that the Coalition of Five supposedly announced that Aboutourabi-Fard was put forward as a candidate with the approval of the entire group – yet former foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki registered anyway, citing his greater popularity in polls. He argues, “These disagreements show not only the Principlists’ lack of a plan and contradict their claim of unity, but they also indicate that those who claim to be Principlists are actually solitary individuals who have found the way up the ladder of power by sticking with the Principlist movement.”