Alireza Nader sees the next Presidential elections in Iran in June 2013 to go either of two ways.
- A further consolidation of power of the Supreme Leader, through effectively preventing the Guardian Council of accepting any candidate which would be tempted to ride his own track. The next President should be very loyal and consult with Khamenei on more issues than any other former President. What are the consequences of these measures within the Iranian political elite?
- Severe unrest right after the elections. However, since both the security apparatus of Iran and many of the young protesters are very familiar with the sight and feeling of a struggle — the Arab Spring in 2011, and of course the post-election unrest in 2009 in Iran — it remains to be seen how that will develop itself.
Khamenei also has a long memory. He owes his selection as Supreme Leader to Rafsanjani, who was the head of the Experts Assembly and Iran’s most powerful leader after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini. But as president, Rafsanjani attempted to impose his own political and economic agenda on Khamenei. The next president, Khatami, went even further by explicitly challenging the political status quo. The reformist president’s support for civil society, nongovernmental groups, ethnic minorities, and even women’s rights violated everything Khamenei believed in.
Khamenei apparently thought Ahmadinejad would be a loyal servant. The Revolutionary Guards were mobilized to ensure his election in 2005 and again in 2009. But even Ahmadinejad, who could not have been elected without Khamenei’s support, turned out to be an ungrateful thorn in his side.
The president has challenged his superior consistently and vigorously. One can assume that Ahmadinejad is overconfident, but perhaps he knows that Khamenei’s authority is on the wane. Ahmadinejad’s accusation against Larijani—a Khamenei loyalist and potential presidential candidate—is a direct insult to Khamenei, who has repeatedly asked regime officials to refrain from publicizing their political disputes. But no one seems to listen.
The Guardian Council will most likely disqualify anyone associated with Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad before the June election. The Revolutionary Guards, which has become immensely wealthy and powerful under Khamenei, has also staked a role in supervising the elections. Ali Saeedi, Khamenei’s representative to the Guards, has even promised that the Guards will “rationally and logically engineer the elections.” At least he is honest.
Khamenei does not want so much a president as an obedient prime minister who will enforce his dictates. He has even pondered getting rid of the presidential system in previous speeches. Western analysts and Iran watchers should forget about voter turnout or whether the next president will have an impact on nuclear negotiators. The Iran of today has one effective ruler, backed by a powerful military and security establishment.
Iran’s last Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also believed in having the last word on all state matters. He frequently ignored his prime ministers or replaced them when necessary. He created Rastakhiz, an ostensible political party without any real power or authority. This was all meant to convince Iranians that they had a choice in determining their destiny. But the Shah did not recognize reality. When finally challenged by the people, the SAVAK (his fearsome intelligence agency), the Artesh (his formidable military), and the wealthy and supposedly loyal elite all abandoned him.
The world awaits a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. Absent a negotiated settlement, a war that could ensnare the United States, Israel, and millions of innocent Iranians is a real possibility. But we should remember that this story may have another ending. The June election could be yet another sign that the Islamic Republic—like its predecessor, the Pahlavi dynasty—is but a house of cards that may scatter to the wind.