For many observers, Iran’s Presidential elections have ended before they even started. Scheduled for June 18, little surprises are expected from the 13th election since the formation of the Islamic Republic back in 1979. The most prominent candidate is the incumbent Chief of Justice, and runner up against the current President Hassan Rouhani, Ebrahim Raisi.
The Iranian electoral system is one of a kind. It is the only country in the world where a popularly elected president (regardless of the constraints put on candidacy) cannot officially hold office unless approved by a non- elected cleric.
The President’s office is the weakest institution in Iran, and has been since the current constitution’s inception in 1979. The power of the clergy is growing.
The Revolutionary Guard also has a high level of control running a network of military, economic and financial institutions. Its power is only second to the Supreme Leader.
It’s claimed that Raisi - described as an ultra-conservative hardliner – was one of several Iranian officials responsible for mass prison killings in the country in 1988, according to a 2018 Amnesty International Report.
The President elect is a forgone conclusion, and there is talk that he is next in line to become the heir to 82-year old Ali Khamenei, who himself was President of the Republic before he succeeded Imam Khomeini.
In Iran voting centers, ballots, electoral committees, the needed stationaries and all other operational requirements are in place, as in most countries around the world. The window dressing will not discard the fact that these are sham elections similar to the one held in Syria a couple of weeks ago which led to the re-election of Bashar Assad with 95 percent of the votes.
The only difference here is that Iranians are more professional in setting the theater as if there are real elections taking place: voting age is allowed for 18-year olds, with multiple candidates running and televised political debates as seen in other countries.
But, the process of screening candidates by the “Guardian Council” is by itself a pre-designed plan to oust any potential trouble-makers that might possess views not in full harmony and compliance with the orientations of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
When a former President and a former Parliament Speaker (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani) are not granted permission to join the race it illustrates the farce the election is.
How can a person be eligible at one point in time to run the country for two consecutive four-year terms and then deemed unqualified? Needless to say, the Guardian Council never felt the urge to explain to the public or to the candidates themselves the criteria upon which some candidates are qualified and others are not.
It’s clear that screening candidates is easy, but the real challenge for the Iranian regime is not who will win the election, but instead the volume of votes counted.
The higher the turnout, the easier it becomes for the regime to boost its legitimacy. This is a paradox to what’s witnessed on the ground with a growing number of street protests and discontent, an ailing economy and unemployment rates hitting over 12 percent of the 86 million population.
The country has not witnessed any economic growth since 2017 with American sanctions hitting hard.
Low voter turnout will reflect the high degree of dissatisfaction of the Iranian people. The February 2020 parliamentary elections saw a record low turnout since the formation of the Islamic Republic. Total voting did not exceed 41 percent with an unprecedented number of voters in Tehran as low as 22 percent.
The challenge for the regime is to reverse this turnout in the upcoming Presidential elections.
Tehran hopes to complete its talks in Vienna as soon as possible with the aim for the international community to lift sanctions. If the conclusion favors Iran, the badly need revenues generated from exports and inward investment will be pumped into the Iranian economy to boost much needed development and infrastructure or squandered on militias across the region.
Tehran will stick to its hardline policies as schemed by its Supreme Leader who runs the show backstage.
No change in Iranian people’s lives will change with the new president in office, regardless if it isn’t Raisi.