The 1979 revolution, also known as the Islamic Revolution, marked the end of the Pahlavi dynasty under the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, and resulted in the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran led by then Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1979-1989). The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic Republic with a Shiite Islamic political system based on “velayat-e faqih” [lit. ‘guardianship of the jurist’ or ‘rule by the jurisprudent’]. The supreme leader, otherwise known as Rahbar, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (1989-present) has ultimate control over key power structures and institutions from the legislative and executive branches of government to the judiciary, state-run media, armed forces and other key social, political, and economic institutions in the country.
Iran’s twelfth presidential election, along with its local elections is scheduled to take place on 19 May 2017. Iran’s election, or rather selection depending on whom you ask, takes place every four years to elect the head of the state, government, legislators and the assembly of experts, as well as local representatives and officials.
The Iranian constitution adopted in the aftermath of the Iranian nationalities revolution in 1979 states that any citizen born in Iran, believing in God and the official religion of Iran (Shiite Islam), has been loyal to the constitution, the supreme leader and is above 21 years may register as a presidential candidate. While this looks good in theory, the reality on the ground, however, paints a different picture, as the supreme leader has ultimate control and power over the election process and government.
The election/selection agenda is structured under the supervision and approval of the supreme leader, and implemented by the Guardian Council, which decides on a candidate’s approval or disapproval. A quick overview of previous election years shows that only certain kinds of people are permitted and approved to run for office, which include those loyal to the supreme leader.
The president is, therefore, nothing but symbolic as he is under the complete control of the supreme leader and must carry out the decrees and objectives of the leader. The supreme leader has ultimate power and can dismiss or reinstate any ministers to government regardless of the president’s decision and opinion. He also has complete control over any decisions made in terms of administering national planning, budget, economy, environment, foreign policy, state employment affairs, population growth, approving and signing of treaties and agreements with international government and organisational bodies, as well as everything else.
Any politician found deviating in the slightest way from the supreme leader’s principles, policies and practices are up for scrutiny and removal. An example of this includes the removal of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi from government. What the 2009 election year and the removal of these predominate leaders loyal to the supreme leader suggests is that anyone found not following the supreme leaders ordeals is up for removal.
It is therefore erroneous to place any hope in the upcoming 19 May presidential election, especially given that Khamenei has monopolised, and centralised control over every aspect of society and government; as well as given his stagnant outlook and view on politics both domestic and foreign, and desire to spread his influence and control in the region and beyond. The system is the same exact system that has been in place for decades. No change in terms of the democratisation of the country, or the preservation and protection of human rights, liberty and freedom can ever come about for as long as Khomeini regime is in power. On one hand, this regime does not believe in freedom, democracy, social justice, and human rights. On the other, it is oppressive, suppressive, marginalising, exclusionary and discriminatory in nature.
So while the regime continuously through its propaganda machine calls on the people to vote to bring about change, the living condition is becoming unbearable, as the economy is deteriorating, social and political institutions are weakening, human rights violations are pervasive and spreading to every corner of the country, violence and crimes are on the rise, more and more people are incarcerated and tried in closed-door courts and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences, any sign of opposition is cracked down upon, and those found opposing the regime are punished and silenced.
The reality of the situation and living condition is even worse for the Kurdish, Arab, Al-Ahwazi Arabs, Baloch and other religious minorities as their neighbourhoods are militarised and kept under constant watch, state sanctioned and sponsored poverty, underemployment, and discriminatory processes and practices. The presidential election or any other election for that matter will not bring change to the situation of millions of children denied education in their mother tongue, nor will it bring hope to the working class, employment sector and the human rights of peoples. Arabs, Baloch and Kurdish communities in the country will continue to endure the same oppressive, suppressive, state sponsored and sanctioned discriminatory policies and practices, and will continue to endure denial of national identity, right and a dignified life.
Any political change towards democracy and reform in the current regime is impossible, and any expectation from the current reformist leaders to prioritise defending the right of nations and people to live in peace, security and stability in the country is misplaced, as those in the leadership roles first and only loyalty is to that of the supreme leader. It, therefore, does not matter who wins the election, and there is no difference between those claiming to be and identifying as “hardliners” versus “reformists”; as all Iranian politicians are hardliners by nature of getting the approval of the supreme leader, and by subscribing to and carrying out his decrees and principles.