The twelfth parliamentary elections and the sixth Assembly of Experts elections are scheduled to take place across the country on Friday, March 1, 2024, in one month. Candidates in these elections will “compete” for 290 seats in the legislative branch and 88 seats in the Assembly of Experts. While the media and officials of the Islamic Republic talk about the “competition” among candidates, the usual process of disqualifications has started, as is customary in the Islamic Republic. Centrist media report that in 7 provinces of the country, there is no competition at all.

For example, for the 88 seats of the Assembly of Experts (is the deliberative body empowered to appoint the Supreme Leader of Iran), only 138 candidates have been qualified, and this number has decreased to 136 due to the death of one candidate and the withdrawal of another. In 7 provinces of the country, the number of seats for the Assembly of Experts and the number of candidates are either equal or the number of candidates is less than the number of seats to be filled. Therefore, according to the announced statistics, it can be said that so far, no competition will take place for 13 seats.

Ali Khamenei has reached a point where he lacks the forbearance for even a semblance of limited and controlled electoral competition. Over time, the electoral process within the Islamic Republic’s political framework has effectively become akin to the closing stages of a job interview, wherein the primary objective for the candidates is to prove themselves as the most loyal, compliant, and subservient aides to Khamenei.

Congressional oversight

Based on Article 99 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran: “The Guardian Council is responsible for supervising the elections of the Assembly of Experts, the Presidency, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, public referendums, and all plebiscites.”

Also, according to Article 98 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran: “The interpretation of the Constitution is the responsibility of the Guardian Council, which is carried out with the approval of three-fourths of its members.”

For the first time during the first round of the Islamic Consultative Assembly elections, when the presence of the Tudeh Party and the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization became prominent, the eligibility of these individuals was not approved by the then Governor of Tehran, and the matter was referred to the Guardian Council for final determination. Ultimately, the Council approved this decision, marking the beginning of the Guardian Council’s supervisory approval process.

In 1991, the serving Secretary of the Guardian Council issued an interpretative statement on this matter, declaring, “The oversight referenced in Article 99 of the Constitution is of an approbatory nature, encompassing all aspects of the electoral process, which notably extends to the ratification and disqualification of electoral candidates.”

It’s called an election, but in reality, it’s not an election. Not only do the vast majority of the people not have the right to participate as candidates, but multiple political parties are illegal, opponents of the Islamic government are not allowed to operate, even opposition newspapers are being shut down among themselves. Moreover, within the government circles themselves, each is trying to disqualify the others. This is not an election. Let alone a free election. It’s a deal and arrangement among the government factions.

Today’s confrontations

Media outlets close to the Iranian regime, following the statements of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, typically label calls for election boycotts as “conspiracies of the enemies.” In their analyses, there is no acknowledgment of the dire situation of the country in terms of domestic and foreign policy, the spread of poverty, and its impact on the level of participation. An example of this is the analysis by the “Javan” newspaper, affiliated with the IRGC.

The newspaper writes: “A little attention to the fundamental and priority issues of the country in the current situation shows that the priority of the Islamic system in the upcoming elections has shifted from the quality and result of the ballot boxes to the quantity and level of people’s participation. This is because if the elections are held coldly and weakly, even the strongest assemblies will not be able to compensate for the voids resulting from it.”

Javan newspaper, also had a thought-provoking reaction to the disqualification of Hassan Rouhani for the Assembly of Experts election in its editorial on Saturday, February 7. The article, written by someone named “Ali Alavi,” highlights several specific points. One is that the “system” disqualifying even “former officials” is very democratic. Second, Rouhani and “some former presidents” were seeking to create a “successor” in the style of “Putin-Medvedev,” but the “system” was smarter and disqualified them. The third issue is that Rouhani fancied he could have a significant influence in the process of determining a new leader after Khamenei’s death, which was also a delusion created by Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The author, in the third part discussing the cleverness of the “Walayah system,” delves into history, writing that some believe it was Hashemi Rafsanjani who brought Khamenei to leadership in 1988. Therefore, there exists a possibility of repeating a similar scenario. In the Revolutionary Guards newspaper’s account of the meeting to determine the second leader after Khomeini’s death, it was Hashemi who acted cleverly. When he realized that the Assembly of Experts’ vote was not in favor of a leadership council and after several members mentioned the Imam’s recommendation, seeing the situation as concluded, he took it as an opportunity to portray as if it was he who had brought Khamenei to power:

Hashemi made those remarks after realizing that the Assembly’s vote was not for a leadership council and after several members referred to the Imam’s advice, seeing the situation as concluded. He considered it an opportunity to take advantage and registered those words in history under his name.

The reasons behind the disqualification of Hassan Rouhani remain ambiguous. His extensive political career spanned serving as the President of Iran for two consecutive terms, totaling eight years. Additionally, Rouhani devoted 20 years as a Member of Parliament, and he held a significant advisory role, representing the Supreme Leader in the Supreme National Security Council for more than ten years. Moreover, his multiple terms as a member of the Assembly of Experts for Leadership underscore his long-standing influence in Iranian politics.

The spokesperson for the Guardian Council said on a Sunday TV program that they are so committed to the law that despite the damage caused by the lies of the disqualified individuals, they cannot publicly disclose the reasons for disqualification:

In the matter of elections, since there are specific cases and individuals involved, we cannot discuss these matters publicly because the law must authorize us to make public disclosures… I acknowledge that we are experiencing damage in this regard, but everyone must adhere to the law because we are dealing with a legal collective and you wouldn’t expect a legal collective to act against the law.

“We are gonna do something for Raisi!”

The story of the Assembly of Experts elections, set to take place on March 1st alongside the Islamic Consultative Assembly elections, is not limited to the disqualification of Hassan Rouhani.

In South Khorasan, where Ebrahim Raisi has filed his candidacy, four people have been disqualified, leaving Raisi as the only candidate competing for the single seat allocated to this province. This incident has become the subject of both humor and various political analyses in recent weeks.

Raja News, one of the most conservative media in Iran that representing the supporters of Mesbah Yazdi and Ebrahim Raisi, published a announcement that Raisi and the situation in South Khorasan should not be ridiculed because similar situations have occurred in other provinces:

Reformist media, by announcing that Raisi is the only candidate qualified for the Assembly of Experts from the South Khorasan electoral district, pretend as if the Guardian Council has deliberately done this to ensure a presidency without competition. However, an examination of different electoral districts shows that this issue is not unique to South Khorasan and has occurred in other districts as well. For example, the Qazvin province has two seats in the Assembly of Experts, and three people in this province have been qualified. In East Azerbaijan, there are five seats for the Assembly of Experts, and six people have been qualified.

Ali Naderi, who was previously a writer for Raja News and has since become the CEO of the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), also mocked Rouhani in a tweet. He asked the Guardian Council to qualify the former president on the condition of transferring his electoral district to South Khorasan, to see how many votes he would receive in competition with the “servant of the nation.”

Ali Bagheri, a reformist political activist who served as the Deputy Minister of Interior during Mohammad Khatami’s administration, told Etemad newspaper on Sunday that the circle around Ali Khamenei and those who have set up this “circus” are so confident and indifferent to the mockery of the election process that they have even turned the disqualifications they have carried out into a joke:

What happened today in the South Khorasan Assembly of Experts election is a prominent symbol and a visible situation that the election is facing. A complete symbol of the situation of all elections. Holding an election without competition, in a situation that has become a subject of ridicule and joke in public opinion and criticism and assessment abroad and in the media. But at the same time, it does not provoke any sensitivity, prejudice, and concern in some circles and political currents within the country. These factions fundamentally do not feel that holding such an election without competition is a bad and undesirable event for the republic of the system. Even these political factions have had strange confrontations with the topic and make jokes about it.

Sunday marked the last day for objections to the disqualification results in the Assembly of Experts election. It’s still unclear which individuals have asked the Guardian Council to reconsider their decision and whether Hassan Rouhani was among them.

Mohammad Bahadori Jahromi, whose brother serves as the government spokesperson in Raisi’s administration and who himself acts as an unofficial spokesperson for the Guardian Council these days, said on Sunday in reaction to the current situation that the final composition of the Assembly of Experts election is not yet clear. He mentioned that some individuals might be qualified in the review process. Regarding the situation in South Khorasan, Jahromi said that perhaps a candidate from another electoral district could transfer to South Khorasan and solve the problem. He stated that if only Raisi remains, the election in this district will not be held, and the fate of this seat will be determined in a mid-term election.

It remains unclear what Ebrahim Raisi will do if he ends up being the only candidate. He could change his electoral district and run elsewhere. It seems unlikely that Raisi would want to forfeit the opportunity of being in the Assembly of Experts to a future mid-term election.

Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Republic, who is intertwined with the future of the Assembly of Experts elections due to the possibility of his death in the next eight years, has not yet reacted to the current situation.

Islamist Reformists and groups that previously tried to involve him in their disputes with the Guardian Council, hoping to slightly loosen its grip, now understand that the actions of the Guardian Council are nothing but the execution of orders from the office of the Supreme Leader. The current Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic no longer has the patience for staging limited shows to prove “religious democracy.” He wants the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Assembly of Experts to be institutions that come and go at his slightest hint or frown.

On May 22, 2019, in a meeting with a group of Basij youth in his Husseiniyah, Khamenei spoke about the shared grievances between him and his Basij children. In that session, he ordered that the time for patience and enduring incompetence had passed, and it was time to act to make the institutions more aligned with Hezbollah’s ideology. He promised that with the formation of a young Hezbollah government and similar institutions, the grievances of him and the Basijis would be addressed.

In the four years since that meeting, one parliamentary election and one presidential election have been held. In both elections, the circle of candidates qualified in such a way that the competition was among those who were obedient and more obedient to the Revolutionary Guard and the leadership apparatus of the Islamic Republic. The two elections on the 1th March are the third and fourth events following this directive. Now, there is no longer even a semblance of limited and strictly controlled competition, and on the 1th March, the “system” is set to announce the results of the job interview for selecting the servants of the Guard and the leadership.

If Khamenei, at 84 years old, lives to see another election after the two on the 1th March, he might even set aside the general process of the job interview and directly appoint the “servants of the nation” in the “institutions of the system” either by his direct order or that of his Basij children. This would be an optimal way to eliminate the costs of holding elections and, of course, contribute to environmental protection by reducing paper use for advertising and printing ballots.

My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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