Iran’s election results promise little change

Ebrahim Raisi’s unsurprising victory will further cement the hardline establishment, to the detriment of Iranians who have sacrificed their lives and livelihoods for basic freedoms.

The presidential election in Iran was formulated as a religious and national duty with a strong emphasis on participation. Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made three speeches ahead of the election in order to put as much pressure on voters as his position allows.

The result was a given. The stage was already set up and the actors were choreographed.

Now at the helm is 60-year-old Ebrahim Raisi, a middle representative of the Iranian clergy who has served as a prosecutor for most of his career and is under UN and US sanctions. In 2017 he lost to President Hassan Rouhani in a landslide.

Human rights lawyer and activist Shadi Sadr, says Raisi “should be behind bars,” not a president.

Raisi has been accused by human rights organizations of being involved in the so-called “death squad” that ordered the extrajudicial execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

The 28-year-old Raisi was deputy prosecutor for Tehran at the time. The following year he was promoted to chief prosecutor.

The US also sanctioned him for his involvement in the “brutal suppression of the Iranian protests against the Green Movement” after the 2009 elections.

In December 2020, a group of UN human rights experts warned Iran that the 1988 violations could be “crimes against humanity”.

Raisi’s defenders deny all allegations.

Many believed that Raisi was prepared for the leadership position when he was appointed custodian of the Shiite financial foundation Astan-Quds Razavi and then head of justice in 2019.

He received support not only from Khamenei, who comes from the same northwestern city of Mashhad, but also from his ultra-hardline father-in-law Ahmad Alamolhoda, the grand imam of the Imam Reza shrine in the holy city.

However, it is difficult to be sure of this premise. Khamenei could take tactical steps to reduce Raisi’s popularity. As head of justice and now president, Raisi runs the risk of falling into public favor. Khamenei was then able to prepare his son Mojtaba for leadership during Raisi’s two terms in office.

Some analysts believe that with Raisi, Iran is either moving towards a one-party system or changing the political structure from a presidential to a parliamentary system and “replacing the role of Supreme Leader with a multi-person council”. But the political structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran has its own logic, firmly based on the ultimate power of the Supreme Leader, guarded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and reinforced by the Guardian Council.

It is more of a parallel to a one-party system; it doesn’t have to become one.

It also has a hard-line parliament and a planned leadership council. With the presidency, hardliners now control all centers of power.

The above views may be due to the reformists’ disastrous performance in these elections. Yet reformist leaders have always wanted reform within the establishment, and the system has already successfully sidelined them.

In these elections, reformists argued extensively over participation. One camp, led by former head of the Green Movement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, decided to boycott with broad support, and the other, led by outspoken reformist Mehdi Karoubi, thought it best to join in, and Abdulnasser Hemmati.

The two prominent, disqualified reform candidates Mostafa Tajzadeh and Mohammad Aref also chose two different paths. The former decided to boycott and the latter was one of the first to arrive at the polling station.

They achieved results in the 1997, 2009 or 2013 and 2017 elections, when all non-hardline groups came together. Yet their leaders have never questioned the supreme power of the Supreme Leader. And the regime’s repression left half of its members behind bars.

According to IranPoll, the reformists’ support base has shrunk by around 8 percent since 2017, while that of the conservatives has grown by 4 percent.

With a 63 percent mandate, Raisi will undoubtedly further anchor the hard-line theocratic establishment, promote Iran’s Shiite influence in the region, and support the expansion of IRGC attacks in the Middle East. He will improve Iran’s relations with China and Russia.

Although Raisi has been banned from traveling to Western countries, he may harden his rhetoric, but will nonetheless adopt the leader’s cue for the implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal with the aim of lifting all sanctions against the IRGC.

In this endeavor, the new president in Iran could collide with the new US president, who has insisted that human rights sanctions should remain in place.

“The main winners of the elections are Iranians,” said Ayatollah Khamenei.

The biggest losers, however, are the Iranians, who sacrificed their lives and livelihoods in the struggle for fundamental freedoms. You’re going to have a much tougher fight now.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, positions, or editorial guidelines of TRT World.

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Source: TRT World

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