By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
Although Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claims his job is not to interfere in government affairs unless the survival of the Islamic Republic is at risk, he is already intervening in the country’s presidential election, which is still almost six months away.
In his latest remarks to the representatives of Iran’s “Student Unions,” he pointed out that a “young and hezbollahi government” must rule the country. He added: “I have repeatedly said that I believe in such a government … However, this word does not mean just a 30-some-year-old young person becomes the government’s chief … The young and hezbollahi government means a practical, ready and sprightly government that cures dilemmas and can pass the country from hard paths,” according to the Iranian state-controlled Mehr news agency.
What he is suggesting is that the next government must be a hard-line one that adheres to and promotes the revolutionary ideals of the Islamic Republic. From his perspective, people such as the late Gen. Qassem Soleimani are perfect candidates to run for the presidency.
As he stated: “Some are young, hardworking and cheerful despite old ages, like great martyr Haj Qassem Soleimani. He was above 60 years old. However, I would preserve him at his position even for another 10 years if he was not martyred.”
Khamenei is attempting to fill every branch of the government with hard-line ideologues. He already tightened his grip on the parliament by consolidating his autonomous rule, as hard-liners won the majority of seats in 2020 parliamentary elections.
The victory of these hard-liners was most likely premeditated and predetermined by the supreme leader. The Guardian Council, the members of which are directly or indirectly appointed by Khamenei, disqualified more than 7,000 candidates ahead of the vote. The majority of those who were banned were from reformist, independent, pragmatic and moderate political parties.
Similarly, Khamenei made several speeches in the months prior to the parliamentary elections that warned the government against allowing some candidates to stand. In one of those speeches, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, he called for a “strong Majlis (Iran’s Parliament)” that must be made up of “courageous, effective, obedient, motivated (candidates) loyal to Islam.”
He added: “Anyone who fears speaking out against a certain foreign power (the US) is not fit to represent the honorable, mighty and brave Iranian public.”
While some politicians in Iran may prioritize a pragmatic approach to running the country to ensure the survival of the theocratic establishment, Khamenei believes that pragmatism ought to come second to the revolutionary ideals of the Islamic Republic, which include anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, exporting the principles of the revolution to other nations, and pursuing hegemonic ambitions in the region.
As a result, his regime is making sure that those who are deemed to be qualified to run for office are ideologues, staunchly loyal to the supreme leader and the revolutionary goals of the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei’s modus operandi has always been anchored in weakening the presidential office and influential figures while granting significant power to the military, specifically the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite branch, the Quds Force.
He is also continually marginalizing the high-level clerics who oppose him, and has created his own inner circle and foreign-policy office. In particular after the latest widespread protests across Iran, Khamenei has significantly empowered the IRGC and paramilitary group the Basij.
He has made the IRGC the backbone of the clerical establishment, as it controls significant sections of the country’s economic and ideological centers. Khamenei and the senior cadres of the IRGC enjoy the final say in some of Tehran’s foreign-policy decisions and its support for proxies.
The Supreme Leader’s current favored candidate for the presidency appears to be hard-line politician Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, who was elected speaker of the parliament this year. A former IRGC general, he is considered a principalist (ultraconservative) within the Iranian political spectrum and one of the most corrupt politicians in the country.
He is a staunchly loyal confidante to the supreme leader, and has played a crucial role as the regime’s insider in ensuring the survival of the Islamic Republic and the advancement of Tehran’s revolutionary principles.
This is why President Hassan Rouhani’s political party recently attacked Qalibaf. According to an article published by the Asr-e Iran website on Dec. 19: “Wow, Majlis reformed the presidential law for Qalibaf … Believe that, if they could, they would write that the presidential candidate must be a general, doctor, pilot, Tehran mayor and Majlis Speaker (referring to Qalibaf’s previous positions) otherwise, he cannot register.”
Khamenei’s move to interfere in the presidential election reveals his fear that the survival of the Islamic Republic is in danger as a result of growing domestic opposition to the regime and the potential for further protests.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh