Iran after Ahmadinejad

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (C) registers his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election at the interior ministry in Tehran on May 11, 2013 (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images) Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (C) registers his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election at the interior ministry in Tehran on May 11, 2013 (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (C) registers his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election at the interior ministry in Tehran on May 11, 2013 (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

It will surprise nobody to learn that I think the Presidential election in Iran, at this stage, is complicated. Six hundred and eighty-six candidates have registered their names to run for president after Ahmadinejad. Kayhan newspaper (whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of Iran) claimed that this huge number of candidates is a great sign of democracy in Iran. Ahmadinejad went along to the Ministry of the Interior on May 11 with his assistant (or his master, depending on whom you ask)—Rahim Mashaei—to show his support.

Ahmadinejad stood shoulder to shoulder with Mashaei and exclaimed, “Ahmadinejad is Mashaei, and Mashaei is Ahmadinejad; Mashaei has all the abilities of Iran’s nation!”

But the main news was Hashemi Rafsanjani’s registration, which is potentially a game changer. He arrived to register his name at the last minute. His adviser said Hashemi listened to the news at 2 p.m., then as usual he slept for two hours, then he had some meetings with MPs and some clergymen, who all insisted on Hashemi’s registration. Finally, at 5:30 p.m., he made his historic decision. He spoke to his family, saying, “Bismullah! In the name of God, we should go for registration at the Ministry of the Interior.”

In short, Hashemi’s entrance changed the game and the political scene in Iran. I worked in his administration as his deputy for legal and parliamentary affairs for eight years—from 1989 to 1997. In addition, he was the speaker of Parliament between 1980–1989. I can say he is a great decision maker, and a statesman.

Hashemi has been a strong critic of Ahmadinejad’s administration over the last eight years. He did not follow the advice of Khamenei to support Ahmadinejad, and so he lost his position as the Imam who delivers Tehran's Friday sermon. But he did not change his mind. Nowadays, everyone in Iran understands, and feels that Ahmadinejad’s presidency has been nothing short of a disaster.

Mahdi Shojaei, a famous Iranian writer and novelist, said we will need forty years to recover from the cultural mistakes of Ahmadinejad’s government, which has lasted for eight.

On May 11, in Iran’s Parliament, an MP said that parliament should dismiss Ahmadinejad from his job as president. This shows that Ahmadinejad holds no cards, and that he has no political future. Because of this, he went to the Ministry of the Interior on the same day to support his former assistant, Rahim Mashaei. The Council of Guardians, as the overseer of the election, believes Ahmadinejad made a grave mistake in doing so, and that he should be held accountable before a court for breaking the law by publicly backing a candidate while holding office.

The conservatives have many candidates: Velayati, the former minister of foreign affairs; Haddad-Adel, the ex-speaker of parliament; Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran; and Jalili, who is the chief negotiator of Iran’s nuclear program. They are now facing a very big question: which one of them can compete with Hashemi? Facing this dilemma, they have begun to criticize him, and the positions he has taken over the past few years. Velayati, for instance, said Hashemi had been disloyal, and had left Khamenei to deal with the Green Movement alone.

It seems even in Iran’s special brand of democracy—a democracy without political parties—the people can play a special and unpredictable role, as they did in the Second of Khordad in 1997. Khatami’s surprise presidency was the result of such great reaction from the people.

The community of Iran is polarized more than ever before. Reformism versus extremism, and freedom versus despotism: every side has its special representative. I think Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards have six candidates. Ahmadinejad’s administration also has six candidates. Finally, the reformists have six candidates, too.

Fortunately most of the reformist candidates, including Hasan Rouhani, Aref, Shariatmadari, Eta’at, and Kavakebian have already announced that they will support Hashemi Rafsanjani. This means virtually all reformists are supporting Hashemi. Former president Mohammad Khatami has also announced his support for Hashemi.

Now a big question arises: is Khamenei going to accept the natural result of the election if Hashemi wins? Will he accept Hashemi as the new president? Will the Revolutionary Guards respect the results? Or are we on the verge of a new disaster?


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