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Will Conservatives Dominate Iran's Election?

Potential candidate Hashemi-Rafsanjani has been criticized by conservatives and reformists The men and women who wish to compete in the Iranian presidential election will begin registering on 10 May. After five days, the 12 members of the Guardians Council will begin to examine the applicants' qualifications. This is part of the Guardians Council's constitutional responsibility to supervise elections.

This has always been a controversial process. Of the more than 200 people who registered in 1997, only four candidates were accepted. And out of the more than 800 people who registered in 2001, only 10 were accepted. Among the people rejected for elected office are veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, participants in the revolutionary struggle against the monarchy, and sitting parliamentarians.

Human beings inevitably make mistakes, and it would seem that the vetting process for candidates is no different. However, the head of the Guardians Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, seems oblivious to this possibility. At the time of the 1998 Assembly of Experts election, Jannati said the council must only answer to the authority that appointed it -- the supreme leader -- if it made any mistakes in rejecting over half of the 396 prospective candidates. A few months later, Jannati described the people as orphans and the religious scholars as their custodians and guardians. "They are in charge of all the affairs of the people," he said.

Expecting perfection from humans is unreasonable. Expecting fairness and an absence of bias from state officials, on the other hand, is perfectly reasonable.

It is therefore not clear why Jannati is involved with the team from the conservative Coordination Council for Islamic Revolution Forces that is selecting a final candidate for president, as reported in "Etemad," "Eqbal," and "Farhang-i Ashti" on 5 May. Termed an "expediency committee" (shora-yi maslahatanji), its other members are Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, Ali Meshkini, and Mujtaba Tehrani. Guardians Council spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham denied Jannati's involvement with the conservative group, whereas Guardians Council member Mohammad Jahromi said the regulations do not prohibit Jannati's membership ("Kayhan" and "Eqbal," 5 May 2005).

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari expressed concern that involvement of the person responsible for supervising the election in a specific political movement is neither in the individual's interest nor in society's ("Etemad," 5 May 2005). The interior minister also raised questions about Jannati's impartiality.

Conservatives Divided

Jannati's alleged involvement in the Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces only contributes to doubts about the Guardians Council's political inclinations. But it also shows that the conservatives are not as monolithic as some believe. The Coordination Council identified Ali Larijani as its presidential candidate in late April, but other conservative candidates have their own constituencies.

There are reports that the conservative speaker of parliament, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, has sent a letter to other conservative candidates -- Ahmad Tavakoli, Ali Akbar Velayati, Mohsen Rezai, and Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad -- asking them to withdraw from the race ("Farhang-i Ashti" and "Etemad," 5 May 2005).

Only Tavakoli has done so. Larijani reportedly said that he would withdraw if it is necessary for maintaining unity ("Jomhuri-yi Islami," 5 May 2005). Velayati has refused to withdraw ("Sharq," 5 May 2005). Another conservative candidate, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, reportedly did not get the letter because he is doing well in opinion polls.

The presence of many candidates encourages public participation in the election, and the Iranian regime uses voter turnout figures to legitimize itself. Therefore, one would not expect conservative political organizations to discourage candidates.

In this case, however, the presence of many candidates would dilute the vote and reduce the percentage earned by the top vote-getters. This would normally not be much of a problem, but if Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani enters the race, there is a distinct possibility that he will be among the top two finishers although none of them will get the required fifty percent-plus of the votes. In that case, there is the possibility that Hashemi-Rafsanjani would win the second round.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani has a reputation for doing what is politically expedient and pragmatic, and this has annoyed some conservatives. Indeed, several seminary lecturers from Qom allegedly issued a statement in which they criticized Hashemi-Rafsanjani and said the next president does not have to be a cleric ("Siyasat-i Ruz," 5 May 2005). The conservatives see him as too willing to give way on issues they see as important, such as social affairs and international relations. The conservatives therefore oppose Hashemi-Rafsanjani, as well as the pro-reform candidates, and although they already have a stranglehold on power in Iran -- through the Supreme Leadership, the Guardians Council, and the parliament -- the conservatives want to make their domination complete by winning the presidency.