With Raisi in the saddle, the road ahead for Iran

The head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, won the presidential election in Iran on Saturday, June 19 with 61.95% of the vote. His victory has come as no surprise, especially as he was considered the main choice of the Iranian hardliners. Mr. Raisi was among seven contenders — including five conservatives — allowed by Iran’s election monitoring body to run in the presidential election of June 18. Unsurprisingly, out of the estimated 592 people who registered to take part in the presidential election, only seven candidates were approved by Iran’s Guardian Council. Among those barred from running were former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.

A deeper reading

From the point of view of experts and observers of Iranian politics, this election was carefully engineered and controlled by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who have been influencing all decision-making concerning Iranian domestic and foreign policies. Ayatollah Khamenei is 82 and there are already rumours that the best candidate to replace him in the long run, as the Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution, is Mr. Raisi. This is a decision which will certainly be desired and approved by the hardline members of the IRGC which is the most powerful support base for exporting the Islamic Revolution to other countries and breaking all resistance from social and political groups in the country.

Also read: Explainer | Who’s Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s next President?

A weakening of the reformists

Mr. Raisi’s election comes at a critical time for the Iranian reformists. Unlike the previous presidential elections, where the hardliners fought against pro-reform figures, the June 18 election was the final nail in the coffin of the reform movement; the idea supported by many within and outside Iran during the past three decades was that gradual political change in the Islamic Republic was possible. Mr. Raisi’s victory is an important opportunity for Iranian hardliners to win control over the most important branches of government after being out of office for many years.

As a reaction to the hardline retort, the reformists even tried to pressure Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to run as a candidate, but even he had no chance to encounter the dynamics of an election fully controlled by the Supreme Leader and his gathering. As a result, none of the close collaborators of Hassan Rouhani could pass the vetting by the Guardian Council. But, anyhow, the reformists were to be blamed for having failed to bring in meaningful change in easing political and social restrictions in the country and helping the expected rise of the hard-liners. This is one of the main reasons why many Iranians have become increasingly disillusioned with the reformist camp of the establishment, which has been increasingly marginalised. Let us not forget that the voter turnout in last week’s presidential election was 48.8%, the lowest turnout recorded for a presidential election since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

The ground realities

Though unified in their support of Mr. Raisi, the Iranian hardline factions did not succeed in energising Iran’s disaffected public. As a matter of fact, there was a minimal interest in the presidential election among many young Iranians who continue to struggle on a daily basis to make both ends meet amid a continually deteriorating economy that has been crushed by sanctions by the United States. Unsurprisingly, a high percentage of the Iranian population does not find in the new President a possibility of a better economic situation and improved ties with the West. But this is not the only reason why Iranian civil society does not trust the new President.

Many Iranians, even those born after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, are quite aware of Mr. Raisi’s long career in Iran’s judiciary and his participation in a four-member committee which ordered the execution of thousands of Leftist and the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MKO) political prisoners in 1988. These executions were never acknowledged by the Iranian government, but in August 2016, the family of the late Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, the former Deputy Supreme Leader, published an audio file in which he harshly criticised the executions in a conversation with the committee that included Mr. Raisi.

Looking ahead

On a different note, as being defiant to the normalisation of ties with the West, Mr. Raisi will certainly not plead for an immediate opening of the Iranian economy to foreign investors. Therefore, he will have great difficulty in revitalising the Iranian economy, especially because he has continuously minimised the impact of U.S. economic sanctions and even that of the COVID-19 pandemic on the difficult social and economic situation in Iran. As in foreign policy, the new President will continue good relations with Russia and China, while he will persist in reinforcing Iran’s strategic relations with Syria and Iraq. Last, but not least, although challenging the West, he will not openly and clearly oppose the Iranian nuclear agreement which is currently being negotiated with the Americans and the Europeans. After all, the Iranian President is a political player with very little power in the Islamic regime, since the final decision on major issues such as the nuclear agreement, comes back to the Supreme Leader of the Revolution.

But there is more to Ebrahim Raisi than what he seems to appear. Actually, as everybody knows inside Iran, he has ambitions to replace Ayatollah Khamenei as the next Supreme Leader of the Revolution.

Therefore, while he continues to be faithful to Ali Khamenei, he could be trying to consolidate his alliances with different conservative groups in Iran. Mr. Raisi’s deep ties with the IRGC can be interpreted as his support for the Iranian military hegemony in the region, with a clear priority being given to the ideological interests of the Islamic regime over regional security and stability. As an ultra-conservative, Mr. Raisi will certainly continue to collaborate with the IRGC decision-makers in order to play a significant role within Iran’s hegemonic enterprise in West Asia.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is Director, Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace, Jindal Global University, Sonipat

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 11:18:41 AM |

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