This article is part of our coverage of the Iranian regime’s 2021 presidential election
April 26, 2021—In previous articles, we explained how the regime ruling Iran is struggling with the upcoming sham presidential election in June. On the one hand, the regime is confronted with a dissatisfied society unwilling to participate in the election. On the other hand, while we are only one month away from the official registration, no serious candidate has announced willingness to run for office.
There is a long list of potential candidates with a military background in the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), including Hossein Dehghan, a high ranking IRGC commander and former Defense Minister, Saeed Mohammad, former commander of the Khatam Al-Anbiya garrison, and Ezzatollah Zarghami, an IRGC commander and former head of the regime’s state broadcasting.
According to regime experts, however, none are efficient and competent enough to help the regime solve its domestic and international crises. Many within the regime are hoping the notorious Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi announces his candidacy, who according to the principalists faction, can unite a long list of political figures behind a certain platform.
On April 21, 220 members of the Majlis (parliament) signed a letter in support of Raisi’s candidacy. Even Saeed Mohammad has said, “If Raisi decides to run for the presidency, I will support him and withdraw my ticket.”
Raisi is known for his leading role in the “Death Commissions” of 1988, consisting of a trio of officials acting as judges responsible for sending 30,000 political prisoners to the gallows after minutes-long trials. Therefore, sources close to Raisi say he has yet to decide and has certain ‘concerns.’
It is worth noting that in the previous presidential election held in 2017, in which Raisi was one of the candidates, current regime President Hassan Rouhani said, “People will not vote for those who have only have experience in prisons and executions.”
Of course, if regime Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calls on Raisi to run in the June election, he must be replaced by a reliable person in the Judiciary. And many within the regime are satisfied with the increased repressive measures since Raisi took office.
Khamenei also personally intervened and advised against the candidacy of Hassan Khomeini, grandson to regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini, who associates himself with the so-called reformist current. Khamenei asked him not to participate in the current circumstances prior to Hassan Khomeini having the chance to officially announce his run for the election. This suggests that Khamenei’s preferred candidate is Raisi.
This growing focus on candidates with deep roots in the IRGC and the regime’s repressive apparatus tells much about the regime’s dilemma. At every round of sham elections, the regime puts on a ridiculous show by bringing candidates from supposedly different political viewpoints. (It is worth noting, however, that every single candidate in the regime’s elections is vetted for their deep loyalty to preserving the rules of the mullahs.)
But this time around, the regime is moving toward putting away the façade and showing its true colors, which is the strict rule of the IRGC’s military apparatus and fundamentalist mullahs. And this is because, engulfed by a multitude of crises, the regime can’t tolerate any type of democratic masquerades.
At the same time, the regime is extremely worried that regardless of who will run for office, the people of Iran will not be interested in voting altogether. The subject of boycotting the regime’s upcoming presidential election has evolved into a new social movement against the mullahs’ entire apparatus.
In recent months, many segments of the Iranian society have declared their lack of interest in voting for any presidential candidate that is approved by the regime’s vetting apparatus. In their weekly protests, pensioners and retirees have been constantly chanting, “We have seen no justice and we will not vote!” This reflects their outrage at regime officials and the reality that no matter who fills the posts in the regime’s senior political lineup, the people’s grievances will only become escalate, as seen in recent years. This week, creditors, farmers, and customers of state-back carmakers added their voices to those of the pensioners.
At the same time, the Resistance Units, a network of supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have been conducting a nationwide campaign to boycott the regime’s election. These efforts are welcomed and have been receiving widespread support from the general public. The Iranian people are increasingly frustrated with the corruption and tyranny that have characterized Iran’s rulers in the past four decades.
In recent days, regime officials and state-run media are warning about the Iranian people showing a cold shoulder to the regime’s election. “The general situation in Iran is not good,” the Jahane Sanat daily wrote on April 21.
“The Iranian elite and those who have the expertise or the courage to leave, are leaving their homeland and going to other countries. One day it is elite students from the country's leading universities, the next day the oil industry specialists, or our best pilots, university professors, doctors, and nurses. There comes a day that there is no group left,” the piece warned.
The regime’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli also weighed in on this escalating crisis. Quoted by the daily Setareh Sobh on April 21, Rahmani Fazli said, “The political and social atmosphere of the society and public opinion has not yet shown any particular sensitivity and reaction for the elections.”
Mahmoud Mirlohi, a member of the so-called reformist, faction further pinpointed the regime’s concern. “The situation is such that even though we are only two months away from the presidential election, the election atmosphere is cold and nothing has yet changed, and this continued coldness is still the concern of us all,” he explained on April 21 in an interview with Setareh Sobh.
On April 18, the state-run news agency ILNA quoted former Majlis member Mahmoud Sadeghi as saying, “The election atmosphere is very cold across the country and according to the statistics, no more than 25 percent will participate. This is a very worrying issue.”
Ali Sufi, another regime analyst, raised the bar as a threat to the regime’s very existence. “The serious rival of the presidential candidates this time is the people’s participation,” he warned on April 21 in an interview with the financial daily Donyaye Eqtesad.
The regime clearly cannot cope with the status quo. The power struggle between various factions, a predicted low election turnout of 25 percent, and no nomination of serious candidates are the regime’s major obstacles for the upcoming election.
No matter what path the regime chooses, it will certainly be a turning point. As the regime’s former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has said, this is the regime’s most important election in the past 42 years.