Raisi wins by a landslide, what’s next - GulfToday

Raisi wins by a landslide, what’s next

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Iran elections

Supporters of Ebrahim Raisi hold his portraits and Irani flags in Tehran on Saturday. Reuters

Ebrahim Raisi was destined to win Iran’s 13th presidential election. His victory was determined by the country’s “deep state,” dominated by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the assistance of the Guardian Council, which vets candidates for election. Raisi’s rivals never had a chance. As previous elections had results the “deep state” did not like, the stage was set for a Raisi victory. The Guardian Council did this by excluding all but seven of the 593 potential candidates, including all 40 women, from running for the office.

The Council also limited the actors in the election scenario by banning known and reputable politicians who posed a challenge to Raisi. Among those disqualified were seven-year Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, incumbent Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They were not excluded because of their politics — Larijani is a moderate conservative, Jahangiri a reformist, Jalili a conservative, and Ahmadinejad a populist — but due to their ability to take votes from Raisi. The figure mounting the chief challenge to both conservatives and moderates was Larijani who has a foot in both camps.

Ayatollah Khamenei, pro forma, protested the disqualifications but did not order the Guardian Council to reverse them and apologise to the excluded men. Instead, to shed blame, he chose to complain that exclusion impugned the honour of some personalities.

As intended, Raisi won by a landslide but the legitimacy of his election has been diminished by a turnout of 48 per cent, below the 50 per cent approval rating the clerical regime had sought. By contrast, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani took 57 per cent of the vote in 2017 when turnout was 73 per cent.

In previous presidential polls, the Council left Iranians with a choice. In this election, there was no choice.

Raisi will be Iran’s eighth post-revolution president. The first, Abdolhassan Banisadr, was impeached after 17 months in office, and the second, Muhammad-Ali Rajai, was assassinated in August 1981 after serving for only 28 days. In October 1981, following the murder of Rajai, current supreme leader Ali Khamenei was elected president by 97 per cent of the vote with a turnout of 74 per cent. In 1989, Khamenei became supreme leader after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic.

It is significant that Khamenei was neither a marja (a charismatic religious figure) nor an ayatollah and that the constitution was amended to allow him to succeed. Raisi holds the middle-ranking post of hajotoleslam, as did Khamenei, and is no marja. Instead, many Iranians revile him as an executioner of up to 5,000 Iranian opponents of the clerical regime in 1988, following the Iran-Iraq war. However, Raisi was a student of Khamenei and his close confidant for many years. Both belong to the “principalist” or conservative camp.

Khamenei was followed in the presidency by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, both moderate reformists who challenged the clerics and sought reconciliation with the West. They were succeeded by conservative populist maverick Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had a turbulent first term in office and deeply alienated the West the reformists had cultivated. His 2009 contested re-election victory over reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi prompted nationwide protests which were put down brutally by the regime.

Ahmadinejad’s successor, incumbent reformist Hassan Rouhani, is in office until August after struggling with the Trump administration’s abandonment of the landmark 2015 agreement for limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting punitive sanctions, a collapsing economy and covid.

As Khamenei’s four successors in the presidency often challenged him and the “deep state,” he could not afford at this time to allow Iran’s surprisingly independent-minded voters to have their way.

Why did Khamenei, who is the ultimate authority, opt to use the Guardian Council to turn Iran’s 13th presidential election into an uncompetitive exercise? First, Khamenei is 82 and ailing and, according to commentators, seeks to prepare the way for Raisi to succeed him in exchange for guarantees that Khamenei’s family would be accorded respect and preferential treatment.

He is determined to secure such assurances as other leading reformists and figures who have opposed policies of the regime have been put under house arrest and barred from political activity.

Second, at a time Iran and the region are in turmoil, Khamenei wants to put all the levers of power in Iran in the hands of conservatives who hew to the line of the supreme leader. He sees this achievement as national self-defence. The Islamic Republic only stabilised after surviving civil warfare, the Iran-Iraq war, and repeated popular protests. Iran has also has had to resist constant hostile external interference in its affairs since its birth in 1979.

Raisi is unlikely to alter Iran’s regional and foreign policies which are, in any case, dictated by Khamenei. Uppermost in the mind of all Iranians is the return by the US to the nuclear agreement and the country’s liberation from sanctions that have destroyed its economy and impoverished its population. Khamenei and Raisi are certain to pursue ongoing negotiations in Vienna until they reach a positive result and can claim credit for putting Iran back on the road to recovery. They can be expected to pursue rapprochement with the UAE and Saudi Arabia while consolidating Iran’s ties with China and Russia, forged during the Rouhani era. Iran will also continue to build ballistic missiles and weaponry to deter Israel and other potential enemies from attacking Iran rather than engaging in negotiations with the US to limit armaments.

On the domestic front, Raisi has pledged to tackle corruption and provide a safety net for Iran’s poor and lower middle class who suffer from unemployment, low salaries, inflation, and the fall in value of the Iranian currency. However. as chief of the supreme court he Raisi has no experience in dealing with such issues and will have to surround himself with advisers who do.

As a hard man, he will crack-down on critics and protesters.

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