Shadowy IRGC group manipulating Iran’s elections: Report

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As Iranians vote for a successor to the late president Ebrahim Raisi on Friday, a new report has highlighted the covert operations of an obscure entity within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that has allegedly been engineering election outcomes to align with the supreme leader’s preferred results.

The report by US-based advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), titled “Engineering Minds and Votes: The IRGC’s Baqiatallah Headquarters and Its Role in Iran’s Political Landscape,” highlights the Baqiatallah Cultural and Social Headquarters, a little-known branch of the IRGC. According to the report, this headquarters is tasked with developing and executing strategies to align Iran’s political and cultural environments with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s vision of an Islamic society.

The Islamic Republic insists elections in Iran are conducted in a fair and transparent manner.

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Authored by UANI’s Kasra Aarabi and Saeid Golkar, the report reveals that since its establishment in 2019, the Baqiatallah Headquarters has been at the forefront of election manipulation and societal control, operating largely unnoticed within Iran’s political framework.

According to the report, the Baqiatallah Headquarters employs a “Middle Ring” strategy, which involves organizing local groups to support and implement the regime’s objectives. These groups serve as intermediaries between the general populace and the regime’s upper echelons, effectively bypassing bureaucratic obstacles to enforce the regime’s directives.

“Having lost ordinary civil society in Iran, this strategy effectively seeks to manufacture an ‘insider’ regime-affiliated civil society and connect them directly to the government and IRGC. This enables the IRGC and regime more broadly to engineer outcomes in the public sphere without interference from the bureaucratic machine,” the report said.

UANI’s Aarabi told Al Arabiya English that while Masoud Pezeshkian, the sole reformist candidate in Friday’s election, remains loyal to Khamenei, he is not as close to the supreme leader as other candidates like Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

Presidential candidate Masoud Pezeshkian votes at a polling station in a snap presidential election to choose a successor to Ebrahim Raisi following his death in a helicopter crash, in Tehran, Iran, June 28, 2024. (Via Reuters)
Presidential candidate Masoud Pezeshkian votes at a polling station in a snap presidential election to choose a successor to Ebrahim Raisi following his death in a helicopter crash, in Tehran, Iran, June 28, 2024. (Via Reuters)

As a result, Aarabi predicted that members of the Baqiatallah Headquarters will “act against Pezeshkian” on election day.

He added that the most critical aspect of election manipulation for the Baqiatallah Headquarters occurs on election day itself, where they mobilize their networks across Iran, especially in rural areas, to influence voter behavior. This includes paying people to vote in a particular way, intimidating those who may vote otherwise, and maintaining a presence in polling stations to manipulate the process.

“At the polling stations, this is where the most significant part of election engineering takes place because they have the capacity to tamper with the process through their members,” Aarabi said.

Given these circumstances, Aarabi said it is “highly unlikely” that Pezeshkian will become Iran’s next president.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei casts his vote during presidential elections in Tehran, Iran, June 28, 2024. (Via Reuters)
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei casts his vote during presidential elections in Tehran, Iran, June 28, 2024. (Via Reuters)

Although Khamenei has not publicly endorsed any candidate, his remarks in a televised speech on Tuesday hinted at a preference against Pezeshkian. “One who thinks that nothing can be done without the favor of America will not manage the country well,” the supreme leader said, without naming any candidates.

This comment was widely interpreted as a rebuke of Pezeshkian, who has called for a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal through negotiations with Western powers, including the US.

Aarabi believes that Pezeshkian has been allowed to run because Iran’s leadership has calculated that he does not have sufficient popular support to threaten Khamenei’s preferred candidates and that his candidacy is intended to “give the false veneer of political competition as a means to increase participation and increase the legitimacy of the regime externally.”

The only factor that could disrupt this plan is high voter turnout, Aarabi said, though he added that high voter turnout was “highly unlikely.”

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