Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Crystal Ball on Iran's Presidential Election

by Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker

On Friday, June 14, Iranians will go to the polls to elect a new president for a four-year term. Out of a field of 686 applicants, which included 30 women, the twelve-member Guardian Council that vets all candidates cut the number down to eight men that were deemed conservative and Islamic enough to legitimately aspire to the presidency.

Among those excluded was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a top advisor to outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, considered his ally and protégé.  Also excluded were former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the founders of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Now, who is likely to win out of the eight-member gang of unfriendly faces?

First, one needs to remember that Iranian elections are never elections.  Rather, they are "selections" -- that is, the winner is pre-selected by the supreme leader, and the election is rigged to reflect that choice.  So, in truth, only one person votes in the Islamic Republic of Iran's presidential elections.  That person is the faqih -- the supreme leader -- Sayeed Ali Khamenei.

Next, the figures that the Iranian press or TV service gives of voter turnout are fraudulent.  Voter turnout is likely to be worse than 2009, when it ran below 30%, despite regime claims that turnout was 65%.  Members of the Bassij -- the theological militia -- and of the Pasdaran -- the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) -- are required to cast their votes as instructed and are paid for such.  Likewise, in rural areas, votes are bought wholesale.  Nevertheless, in urban areas such as Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Tabriz, and Mashad, the polls will remain nearly empty all day as the Iranian populace registers its displeasure and disgust at the lack of real freedom and democracy by boycotting the "election." The regime claims high figures for voter turnout as a way of legitimizing its rule, but the Iranian populous is not fooled by such claims. Only Western diplomats and other naïve souls are taken in by such falsified figures.

What is likely to happen is that no candidate will get a plurality in the first round.  With eight candidates, not only is such a landslide highly unlikely, but it would be a major hint that the election was fixed from the outset.  Round two, reserved for the top two vote-getting candidates, follows the first round by one week and will take place on June 21.

And now my predictions: and, more importantly, what they may actually mean.  I think that Khamenei wants Saeed Jalili, the 47-year-old nuclear negotiator, hard-liner, and career diplomat.  Jalili is a fervent supporter of Khamenei, and his election would signal that Iran is willing to stand up to Western pressure and pursue the nuclear program to its successful conclusion, come what may.  A Jalili victory says that the hard-liners are in control and that no reforms should be anticipated.  Iran under Jalili will seem like Ahmadinejad on designer steroids -- a greater degree of class, but a yet higher degree of belligerence.  Jalili is Khamenei's way of saying "full steam ahead."

Some analysts think that Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf), the current mayor of Tehran and Ahmadinejad's successor in that post, has a good chance as well because of his IRGC involvement.  I personally don't think that he has been able to convince the regime hard-liners that he has become an irrevocable hard-liner himself.  I think that they will continue to distrust him should he win the power of the presidency.

If Gholam Ali Haddad Adel wins a spot in the run-off, it will mean that Khamenei is truly fearful that a revolt is at hand.  Choosing a family member (if only by marriage) is indicative of the fear of all outsiders, including even the Praetorian Guard, the Pasdaran (the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps).  Haddad-Adel is devoted to his in-law, and his elevation to the presidency would show that Khamenei doesn't trust anyone outside his own family.  It would be a clear sign of paranoia on Khamenei's part.

If the reformist Mohammad Reza Aref is selected, it will be proof that Khamenei blinked first in his eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the West.  Quite frankly, Aref does not stand a snowball's chances in hell.

The other candidates are unlikely to score that well, Valayati being the only exception.  If Valayati is picked, it's another version of the Jalili candidacy, but even more "in your face," given Valayati's Interpol warrant.

Two days and counting, and we dare not forget that that nuclear clock is ticking in the background.  Whoever is the winner of this election will become Ali Khamenei's new puppet.  However, as Israeli commentator Amotz Asa-el points out, none of the candidates has any viable plan to rescue Iran's failing economy, and it's that factor that may tell the ultimate tale in the tragedy that is today's Iran.

Rabbi Dr. Daniel M. Zucker is founder and chairman of the board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East.  He may be contacted at


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