Iran Elections 2013 – Is Ayatollah Khamenei in Charge?

Many of us in the Iran analysis world are still trying to work out why is it that Esfandiyar Rahim Meshai and Rafsanjani registered for the elections when we know that Iran’s most powerful man Ayatollah Khamenei looks unfavorably upon them both.

Professor Gary Sick of Columbia University offers us his opinion about the possible reasons as part of this very interesting article:

“At this point, the most likely interpretation is that each of the candidates was in it for himself, and the Supreme Leader had very little to say about it.”

He goes on to say:

“The notion that the Supreme Leader is far less supreme than his clique would pretend is neither new nor surprising. But this apparent evidence that he is not only lacking in political clout but is in fact essentially irrelevant to the decision-making process is something new — especially if this plethora of candidates risks another train wreck of the magnitude of 2009.”

I take the opposite view to Gary’s.

I believe that Khamenei is still very much in charge and that both Meshai and Rafsanjani ran after receiving clearance from him.

In the case of Rafsanjani, the permission seems to have come close to the deadline for registration of candidates on Sunday. According to Fatemeh Rafsanjani (Ali Akbar Rafsanjani’s daughter):

“My father’s telephone rang at 17:15. He had a relatively short conversation. After that he came out of the room and said: Bism’allah, lets go”.

Fatemeh Rafsanjani refuses to say who the caller was. But its not difficult to guess. Rafsanjani had stated before that he would participate after hearing the supreme leader’s response. With 45 to go before the deadline, he received one phone call after which he decided to go ahead and register. That phone call could only have come from the supreme leader’s representatives, or himself.

Why allow them to run?

I believe that the supreme leader is carrying out some prudent risk management. Having stability before elections is key. The cost of telling Meshai and Rafsanjani not to run and all the ensuing distractions and noise which it would have created would have been unnecessary and avoidable. So why pay?

Furthermore, by allowing Meshai and Rafsanjani to run, that way the elections at least look inclusive of all factions. This would bring:

  1. stability before the elections.
  2. genuine voters to the ballot box
  3.  would unite the divided the conservatives as many are both against Rafsanjani and Meshai. It took one day after Rafsanjani’s registration for Velayati to attack him by saying that Rafsanjani had abandoned the leader during the disturbances of 2009. Soon after Meshai’s registration there were fist fights between his supporters and supporters of other conservative candidates at the registration office.

In the case of Rafsanjani participating, it would have the added advantage that his presence would weaken Meshai. I believe that Khamenei sees the latter as even more destabilizing than Rafsanjani. By bringing Rafsanjani, Meshai’s nationalistic rhetoric and his efforts to present himself as a moderate candidate would take a hit. Rafsanjani’s presence could definitely erode some of Meshai’s support among Iran’s urban population.

When it comes to his impact on Iranian politics and the elections process, it is my firm belief that Ayatollah Khamenei is firmly in charge, with the help of the IRGC.

Which is why for now I strongly believe that Saeed Jalili is the man to watch.

The rest make up parts of the opening act.