TThe first thing to know about Iran’s recent elections is that while they produced a new president, there are no real winners. “Designed” – yes, a real term in use in Iran – to pave the way for an Ayatollah-approved leadership succession, polls have achieved what has long eluded the enemies of the Islamic Republic: a change of effective regime in Tehran. Only, with the hard line now firmly in charge, it’s not the kind of change that many in the West have sought.
Coming into his later years, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been searching for a successor. For the 82-year-old head of state, the ideal successor is a docile loyalist who could emulate his own journey from the presidency to the highest position in the country. On paper, this is precisely what is unfolding. However, as always, the devil is in the details.
Ebrahim Raisi, who is currently serving as Chief Justice, received nearly 62% of the vote on Friday. But the way this feat was accomplished leaves any Pyrrhic “victory” at best. Widely seen as the primary beneficiary of the removal of all prominent moderates and reformists from the race by the Guardian Council, the scope of the candidate purge was such that Raisi himself reportedly urged the watchdog to reconsider. your decision. The outlook becomes even bleaker considering that, as Chief Justice, Raisi in 2019 introduce various of the Guardian Council members to parliament for approval.
Concerns about the legitimacy of the race will no doubt come to haunt Raisi, especially since the runner-up was not any of the other selected candidates. More than 12% of Iranian voters chose to cast invalid votes, three times more than in any previous presidential election. This is even more significant when you consider that just two weeks before the elections, Khamenei issued a fatwa to denounce blank protest ballots as religiously unacceptable.
Reformists are also big losers in this game. Only one nominal candidate was allowed, the field leaders instead half-tried to mobilize a last-minute surge behind Raisi’s only competitor, Abdolnaser Hemmati, a toothless ex-central banker who ran on an independent platform. He was fourth, with just over 8% of the votes.
This lack of competition ensured that for the first time, non-voters outnumbered voters in an Iranian presidential election. Only 28.9 million out of more than 59 million eligible voters cast their votes, a record turnout of 48.7%. The figure drops further to 42.5% if invalid votes are excluded. By comparison, turnout was above 70% in the previous three presidential elections.
The unprecedented electoral boycott is all the more important considering that the Islamic Republic has long advertised its elections as a litmus test of its legitimacy. Most importantly, this year’s boycott was homegrown. So what does all this portend for Iran and the world?
Just days before the election, Raisi’s father-in-law, the hardline Friday prayer imam of the holy city of Mashhad, punished those who refused to cast their vote with the intention of damaging the political system as “infidels.” Powerful elements of the Iranian state harbor these sentiments because they ultimately see legitimacy as derived from the divine and not from the electorate. Now firmly in control of all the levers of power, they owe their political ascendancy to the failures of Iran’s pro-democracy movement and former US President Donald Trump.
The outgoing Hassan Rouhani administration initially did not want, and later failed, to seriously pursue its ambitious agenda for the economy and dire rights situation at home, concentrating its energy on negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal, envisioned as the key to change. . That gamble was undone when Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the UN-backed accord in 2018. His reimposition of sanctions has decimated the pro-reform middle class in Iran and empowered radicals.
Those who “designed” the Iranian elections have, in Raisi, an establishment candidate who owes everything to Khamenei. The assumption is that this will ensure greater coordination between the supreme leader and the president. Having failed to implement generational change, the reformists will likely now be in disarray for an extended period. Meanwhile, the emergence of more radical and younger voices on the right can be assumed, particularly as Raisi encounters the pragmatism imposed by his new position. These, as well as many other assumptions, including the unwillingness of the Iranian conservatives to compromise with the United States, will be tested when Raisi takes office in early August.
Beyond the change in Iran’s political orientation, Raisi’s election will also make it difficult for the West to engage with the Islamic Republic. The president-elect was closely associated with the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, and Amnesty International has already call for an investigation into his alleged role in crimes against humanity. However, with the red carpet often rolling out for other autocrats in the region, the prospect of serious Western political engagement with a Raisi administration should not be discounted. It will probably only get more difficult.
Mohammad Ali Shabani is editor of Amwaj.media, a platform that focuses on Iran, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism