Inside Story

Iranian politics: Who is pulling the strings?

As two senior politicians are banned from running in the presidential race, we ask if the outcome is now predictable.

Iran’s powerful Guardian Council has disqualified Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, two of the biggest names in Iranian politics, from running in next month’s presidential elections.

It appears that the way is now seemingly clear for a candidate backed by the top clerics, as the race to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reaches its final stages.

The Guardian Council is an appointed 12-member council that has a lot of power and influence in Iran – six of its members are required to be experts in Islamic Law and all are selected by the Supreme Leader.

The job of the members is to interpret the constitution, supervise elections and approve candidates for different political bodies, including the presidency. And the Guardian Council also has veto power over all legislation.

I think the conservatives are still battling amongst themselves .... We mustn't forget that Tehran mayor Qalibaf is there, he is very popular, he has done a magnificent job as a Tehran mayor. So he stands a very good chance, he also poses a serious threat to both Jalili and Veliyati.

by Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political science at Tehran University,

In the presidential vote set to be held on June 14, only eight of the 686 people who registered as candidates were cleared to stand. The decision, though not entirely unexpected, is a setback for reformists in Iran. The next Iranian president will now almost certainly be a conservative, loyal to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is a veteran leader in the Islamic Republic and served as president between 1989 and 1997. He was seen as a candidate who sympathised with the pro-reform movement and could mobilise their vote.

No official explanation was given for his disqualification, but a spokesman for the Guardian Council suggested 78-year-old Rafsanjani would not be able to keep up with the demands of the presidency.

Meanwhile, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, is a close ally of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Critics of Mashaei have questioned his loyalty to the Supreme Leader and say his nationalist ideology undermines Islamic system of Iran. Mashaei says he will fight the Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify him, which he called unfair.

The eight candidates who have been approved to contest the polls are close to Iran’s ruling clerics.

Among them are: Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s main nuclear negotiator; Hassan Rouhani, a Shia cleric and former nuclear negotiator, he was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council; Ali Akbar Veliyati, the foreign minister from 1981 to 1997, who is now an international affairs advisor to the Supreme Leader; and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former military and police commander, the current mayor of Tehran.

As the so-called green movement swept through Iran following the 2009 presdiential elections, hence the clerical leadership of Iran wants to stop any chance of the protests that took place in 2009 from happening again.

Back in 2009, following the last presidential elections, protesters demanded the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he was re-elected in what they said were fraudulent elections. They were met with a brutal crackdown by security forces.

One young woman, Neda Agha Soltan, became a figurehead of the movement. She was killed with a bullet to the heart after getting caught up in a protest on her way home. Her death was reported around the world and her image became a symbol of resistance, both in and outside Iran. Mirhossein Mousavi and other leaders of the green movement have been under house arrest for over two years.

So, where do reformers go now after the violent crackdown that followed their protests last time there was an election? And what role did Iran’s conservative leaders play behind the scenes in the disqualification of the two senior politicians?

To discuss this Inside Story, with presenter David Foster, is joined by guests: Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University; Ghanbar Naderi, an Iranian journalist; and Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, founder and editor-in-chief of Tehran Bureau, an online news magazine.

“They want to choose Jalili, I think he’s the best possible candidate at the moment because, what people are interested in is not a person like Qalibaf to build new roads or parks … they don’t want that.

“What they want is someone to be able to talk to the West, to communicate with the West and resolve all outstanding issues with regard to Iran’s nuclear programme and any other regional matters. I think Jalili is the best possible candidate at the point … ”

– Ghanbar Naderi, an Iranian journalist