Will Rafsanjani’s tactics succeed in Iran elections?

A new electoral trend appears to be emerging in Iran, telling people “not-to-vote” for certain lists

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
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Normally in the days leading up to elections people are encouraged to vote and send a group of individuals to office, or other institutions such as the parliament. However, during Iran’s lead-up to two major elections this Friday (Feb. 26) a new electoral trend appears to be emerging, telling people “not-to-vote” for certain lists.

The Guardian Council, as the most influential body in Iran with the authority to watchdog the elections and qualify candidates, has already disqualified many popular candidates. Six of the 12 members of this Council are appointed by the supreme leader, which means he controls this institution as well as the qualification process.

Months prior to the elections, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that he would like the next parliament to very much look alike the current one. Massive disqualification of well-known reformers, or those close to them, point to his wishes with regard to those reaching the Council. All efforts are being made to block the entry of reformers to the parliament or the Assembly of Experts, with the hope that public disappointment will make these candidates stay away.

It is difficult to read a good politician’s moves, especially when the individual happens to be a political veteran and also a smart operator. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani used to be famously called “Akbar Shark” in early part of the revolution as he used to have his imprint on all political maneuvers, famously even in Khamenei becoming the supreme leader.

Himself qualified to run for Assembly of Experts, he prepared a list which doesn’t include the current four ultra conservative members of Assembly of Experts. No vote to some lists is a new method for the Iranians to block the hardliners from gaining power.

This new politics has caused a lot of turbulence so much so that semi-reformers – or “moderate candidates” – running for the parliament have even been labeled the “UK representatives”.

Britain has been accused of meddling in the elections by encouraging people through their “hidden agents” to block particular lists. In order to neutralize this plan the hardliners ran a campaign with hashtag #NoToUK in the social media to mobilize support.

Rafsanjani and Ali Khamenei were once good friends and have now grown old. Today they have differences and, in many cases, confront each other. These elections, however, are their last chance to leave a legacy. The chances of Rafsanjani becoming the next supreme leader is very slim but perhaps he would like to take this last opportunity to correct his mistakes.

Rafsanjani would want to see the legacy of the revolution continue the way he and other early revolutionists wish for, which means the power stays in the hands of the people

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Hashemi is focused mainly on the Assembly of Experts since its election is held after eight years and the time is against him and the current supreme leader. The parliament election is crucial for the Hassan Rowhani government who needs support to continue his economic and foreign policy reforms. Not many candidates running for parliament are reformers or close to them.

In the government’s opinion, perhaps a parliament with the majority of moderates and semi-conservatives are far better than ultra conservatives. They don’t want to create trouble for President Rowhani in the last two years of his presidency. However, the situation is different for Rafsanjani as a strategist.

Rafsanjani would want to see the legacy of the revolution continue the way he and other early revolutionists wish for, which means the power stays in the hands of the people. He is afraid that hardliners, with the collaboration of the militia, mainly the IRGC, will seize power if the supreme leader passes away.

Such a threat is making Hashemi fearless and he has put himself at the forefront, speaking up to prevent such a destiny for the revolution. To safeguard what he spent his life for, he needs to make his last attempt to influence this fifth assembly, which is set to take a historic decision.

The totalitarians fear losing their seats, which seems unlikely. There is always a magic wand which makes a certain name come out of the ballot box. There is no exception this time around. It is up to the people of Iran to see if Rafsanjani’s “no vote to a list” tactic will succeed or not.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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