Following the Guardian Council’s decision, only seven candidates among 529 individuals were allowed to run for Iran’s Presidential election scheduled for June 18. The council practically paved the path for Iran’s current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi—who has yet to resign from his position—to take office.
The Guardian Council, which is consisted of six faqihs, or expert clerics, appointed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and six jurists appointed by the Judiciary Chief, himself appointed by the Supreme Leader, barred potential rivals for Raisi’s presidency. Ali Larijani, the former Parliament Speaker; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former President; and Eshaq Jahangiri, the current Vice-President, were among the disqualified candidates.
Raisi urged the council to reconsider the situation of several candidates, fearing public apathy toward the election. “I have made contacts, and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory,” he sarcastically wrote on the banned Twitter platform while the Judiciary he leads has appointed six members of the 12-member council.
This election is taking place while the gap between the state and society has unprecedentedly widened and deepened. Fifty percent inflation, high prices of essential goods, systematic corruption, and the government’s failure to address the most fundamental grievances of citizens have caused an imminence distrust and even hatred toward the entire ruling system.
Due to his record, Raisi is considered as Khamenei’s favorite candidate for the election. As the deputy prosecutor of Tehran in 1988, he was a leading implementor of the extrajudicial executions that summer based on the Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa.
According to the opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI), the government mass executed at least 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, mostly affiliated with the MEK. “Whoever at any stage continues to belong to the MEK must be executed. Annihilate the enemies of Islam immediately,” read Khomeini’s fatwa.
In an open letter published on May 3, some 152 former United Nations officials, human rights experts, and jurists urged UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to establish a commission of inquiry into Iran’s 1988 extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners.
Previously, on September 3, 2020, seven UN special rapporteurs had announced that the 1988 extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances of thousands of political prisoners may amount to crimes against humanity.
Furthermore, in a backlash to Khamenei’s desire to appoint Raisi as President, Iranian dissidents intensified their activities inside Iran and abroad, revealing Raisi’s crimes against MEK members and supporters in 1988 and his harrowing human rights record as the judiciary chief.
However, in flagrant defiance of international and domestic appeals, the Khamenei-controlled Guardian Council qualified ‘lucky Raisi’ and ‘six hopeful losers’ to run for the Presidential competition. With such action, the supreme leader obviously announced his unilateral path for maximum isolation.
Khamenei practically put an end to the Vienna-based nuclear negotiations despite appeaser counterparties’ willingness to offer sanctions relief to Tehran at all costs. In such circumstances, not only does reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal not loom but signing any accord is unlikely.
Meanwhile, the supreme leader as the highest authority was forced to ignore the game of reformists versus hardliners. For years, Iranian ‘reformists’ were terrifying the United States and European governments about a ‘hardline administration’ to gain international privileges. Currently, Khamenei fears the popular slogan during anti-establishment protests, chanted, “Reformists, hardliners, the game is over.”
Indeed, Khamenei’s decision made his domestic opponents concerned severely. In a letter to the supreme leader, ‘reformist’ President Hassan Rouhani urged Khamenei to order the Guardian Council to make changes in final lists declared by the council. “The president has ordered the interior minister to avoid announcing the Guardian Council’s lists,” said Mohammad Mohajeri, a journalist and politician affiliated with Khamenei’s faction.
Notably, an official opinion poll conducted by the Broadcasting Organization (IRIB) in May estimates turnout in the vote would be as low as 30 percent, significantly lower than any election held in the past 40 years.
Recently, in a street interview with the state-run Ara TV Channel on May 20, citizens had announced a boycott of the election. “I would not vote alike,” “I don’t vote,” “Why should I vote,” and “Nothing will change with my vote,” said ordinary citizens during the interview.
It is worth noting that the interview had been conducted and aired several days before the Guardian Council’s declaration about candidates. At the time, ‘reformists’ thought that their candidates would drag people to the polls meaning the society had already rejected the current establishment with its entire divisions.
Regarding Khamenei’s recent decision to purge all rivals, the possible turnout would be far lower than any prior estimation. However, the supreme leader seemingly prefers to clarify all opponents and applies his absolute power to countering growing protests inside the country and international isolation abroad.