Tag Archives: Guardian Council

Could Ahmadinejad End Up Under House Arrest?

By: Meir Javedanfar for Al-Monitor

Until recently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad behaved like a boxer who always knew that in fights against his rivals, the referee (i.e., the Iranian supreme leader) would back him. And he was right. The referee, who clearly favored him, was willing to overlook many things in his favor. In some cases, he also helped him, overtly and covertly. As Khamenei is Iran’s most powerful authority, there was little that Ahmadinejad’s rivals could do. Those days are gone.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Blood-Red Liars Pact

Ahmadinejad has six weeks left in office — six weeks in the highest

political office he has ever held and is likely ever to hold in his

entire political life. What’s worse for him, however, is that his rivals

know that the supreme leader will no longer be willing to throw fights

his way, so they are going after him, verbally and politically. Until

Ahmadinejad leaves office, the pent up anger felt by his rivals

for the last eight years will continue to manifest itself in blows

against him, and things could get much worse after he leaves office. At

that point, the attacks could become more frequent and more merciless.

Ahmadinejad has two options: to defend himself now, with all his might,

to try to deter his rivals from attacking him after he leaves office or

to hold his fire until after he steps down. Both options have

advantages and disadvantages.

Going after his rivals while in office might deter them from future

attacks, but it could also anger the supreme leader, as elections are a

sensitive time for him. This would translate into even less support from

Khamenei once he leaves office. By holding fire until after his term,

Ahmadinejad will have much less power and influence at his disposal.

Lack of action might also be interpreted as a sign of weakness by his

rivals. This is, indeed, a dilemma.

For now, Ahmadinejad seems to be taking the option to ward off his

rivals. This has included threatening to reveal their corrupt dealings

and practices and in one case following through on his threat. The

latter took place in early February, when Ahmadinejad aired tapes showing the brother of his rival Ali Larijani asking for bribes. There were also reports by the Iranian website BAZTAB that Ahmadinejad had taped evidence of cheating during the 2009 elections (oddly enough in his favor). The article that published this report was soon removed, and Ahmadinejad’s office denied the story.

Now Ahmadinejad is taking the battle to the next stage: the elections

process. For years, the Interior Ministry has been in charge of

overseeing elections. Although the interior minister is typically

considered close to the supreme leader, the president, nevertheless, has

some influence in the all-important ministry.

Worried about Ahmadinejad using his influence over the Interior Ministry to promote his right-hand man, Esfandiyar Rahim Mashaei, the Iranian parliament passed a new law for the supervision of elections,

and the Council of Guardians approved it in January this year.

According to the law, in supervising elections, the Interior Ministry

will act as part of an Elections Central Executive Committee, which will

include the minister of intelligence, head of the country’s judiciary,

and an appointee from the Majles. All the involved institutions are

staunchly pro-Khamenei, and in fact, the intelligence minister and the

country’s top judge are his appointees. Meanwhile, the interior minister

has to nominate 30 religious, political, cultural and society

personalities to the oversight committee of the Council of Guardians so

that they can be vetted and seven of them appointed to the Elections

Central Executive Committee.

Ahmadinejad saw the new law as a challenge to him by his rivals. To

retaliate, he has held off nominating the 30 people to the Council of

Guardians committee, although it was requested that he do so in

mid-February. This response has raised the ire of Ahmadinejad’s rivals

so much so that he is being accused of playing “dangerous games” and warned that his behavior is “preparing for sedition before the elections.”

With six weeks before the presidential elections,

Ahmadinejad seems to be trying to use the electoral process and his

remaining influence over it to show his teeth. By doing so, he is also

hoping to send a warning to his rivals. He also seems to be using his

influence as political leverage to improve Meshai’s chances of being

approved by the Council of Guardians, should he decide to run.

This is a gamble. Should Ahmadinejad continue to drag his feet,

Khamenei could simply appoint seven people himself. Judging by the

reported cheating in the 2009 elections, fairness and procedure are not

exactly the supreme leader’s priorities.

Jews protesting against the speech of the Iran...

If such a scenario were to unfold, Ahmadinejad might feel cornered and

even more threatened, thus forcing him to react. This could include

revealing more secrets about regime officials, which would lead to even

more infighting and instability while damaging the legitimacy of the

entire regime. If so, soon after the elections, Ahmadinejad would find

himself pursued and possibly under house arrest. This scenario cannot be

dismissed, given the sensitivity Khamenei has recently shown to those

seen as destablizing elements. More important, the supreme leader needs

to show that he will not stand by while his government officials spy on

each other and use intelligence material to settle scores.

Regardless of what happens, upon leaving office, Ahmadinejad will join

the three-member club of former presidents who served under Khamenei and

then fell out of his favor. Whether Ahmadinejad will be the first

member of the club to serve part of his retirement under house arrest

depends on him.

Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst. He teaches contemporary Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

Khamenei’s Strength Could Be a Vulnerability

At a time when the international community’s attention is focused on Tehran‘s nuclear program, Iranian politicians are more preoccupied by the country’s increasingly dysfunctional politics. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appears to undercutting many government institutions, including the presidency, leaving him more directly in charge. An important indicator of how far this process will go is the extent to which parliament confronts President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

PRESIDENT OF IRAN AHMADINEJAD:         KNOW YO...
PRESIDENT OF IRAN AHMADINEJAD: KNOW YOUR ENEMY (Photo credit: SS&SS)

Majlis To Question Ahmadinejad

In 1981, Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini ordered parliament to dismiss the Islamic Republic‘s first president. Since then, however, the Majlis has not used its authority to even question the president, much less threaten his position.

Recent years have been marked by sharp disagreements between the Majlis and Ahmadinejad that have grown worse over time. Last year, for instance, Ahmadinejad ignored the previously sacrosanct legal deadline for submitting a budget, so the Majlis approved only a provisional budget to cover two months while it debated how to change the full year’s spending. This year, Ahmadinejad submitted the budget even later, infuriating the Majlis. As conservative parliamentarian Nasrollah Kamalian told his colleagues, “We have less than ten days to the New Year and the cabinet is not concerned about its next budget and puts no effort into sending the budget bill. Due to national interests, I cannot mention the reasons for [the president’s] behavior in an on-the-record session.”

After several requests from the Majlis, Ahmadinejad finally agreed to attend a session of parliament at which he will answer questions, though it will not be a formal “interpellation” under the procedures set out in the constitution. Presumably, he acquiesced only under pressure from Khamenei. Scheduled for March 14, the meeting has been postponed several times and may be again, though that date holds advantages for Ahmadinejad because it is the parliament’s last on-the-record session before the Persian New Year. Since no newspapers will be publishing during the two-week New Year holiday, the media will have little chance to bring the meeting and its outcome to public attention.

Once the meeting is held, the Majlis will be limited to ten questions whose content has already been made public. Four of them are economic: Why did the cabinet not implement the law funding the subway in Tehran and other large cities? What, if not economic mismanagement, accounts for the 2011 growth rate being well below the government’s 8 percent target? (Officials claim the rate was 4.5 percent, but the International Monetary Fund reports only 3 percent, even after upward revision.) How did government spend last year’s $150 million allocation for elevating the country’s cultural indicators? Why did the government not implement the subsidy reform provisions to compensate the agricultural and industrial sectors for their increased production costs?

The other six questions are about political disputes: Why did the government refuse to implement the law creating a Ministry of Youth and Sport? When Khamenei reappointed the intelligence minister dismissed by Ahmadinejad, why did the president abstain from appearing at his office or fulfilling any of his duties for eleven days? Why did Ahmadinejad deny that the “Majlis is at the top of all affairs,” as Khomeini once said? Why was Foreign Minister Manoucher Motaki dismissed while he was on a mission in Senegal? Why has the president said that the issue of women’s veils should be tackled through cultural efforts rather than force of law? Why did the president’s chief of staff say that the government’s priority is to propagate an “Iranian school” of Islam?

Although the parliament’s questions are unlikely to have any practical implications, confronting the president in this manner holds symbolic significance that could weaken him. This seems to fit Khamenei’s agenda. Indeed, the Supreme Leader has expressed interest in changing the constitution to replace direct popular election of the president with election by the Majlis. This change is unlikely to take place anytime soon, but it shows Khamenei’s desire to restrain the president’s power.

Majlis Elections

Khamenei managed the recent elections in such a way to make the Majlis more loyal to him and less friendly to Ahmadinejad. Besides a few reformists and pro-Ahmadinejad candidates, the main competition was between those who were anti-Ahmadinejad during his first term (the United Front) and those who became anti-Ahmadinejad during his second term (the Stability Front). The president’s favorite candidates were either disqualified by the Guardian Council or not elected (e.g., his sister Parvin).

The elections gave Khamenei more cause for confidence not only because he managed to prevent reformist and pro-Ahmadinejad factions from gaining a significant number of seats, but also because it was the first incident-free voting since the rigged 2009 presidential election. In his eyes, this fact restored the regime’s damaged democratic legitimacy.

Indeed, Khamenei has masterfully associated elections with regime legitimacy, such that boycotting them is perceived as an act of subversion. Therefore, while many reformists and opposition Green Movement leaders boycotted the voting, former reformist president Muhammad Khatami cast his vote. Khamenei also suggested that international sanctions on Iran aim to deepen the gap between the people and the government and discourage the former from participating in elections. In turn, he has used the reportedly high turnout to argue that the West failed in its goal to provoke antigovernment sentiment.

The Disappearing Expediency Council

Iran’s constitution provides for an Expediency Council to resolve differences between the Majlis and Guardian Council and take whatever actions are needed to help government institutions function effectively. Yet the five-year term of the Expediency Council’s current members has expired, and chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been pushed from the center of Iranian power and will not be reappointed. Both developments have contributed to the council’s gradual marginalization. In a recent interview with Iranian website Day News, Rafsanjani explained how Khamenei has incapacitated the council. He also stated that Ahmadinejad, who is supposed to attend the council’s sessions, has appeared at only a few such meetings in the past seven years. Consequently, the council has not been able to operate properly since 2005.

Khamenei is responsible for selecting the council’s new chairman and members before its current term ends. He likely postponed the appointments until the last days of the Persian year so that the media would not be able to discuss the implications of Rafsanjani’s inevitable removal. The most likely candidate to replace him is former judiciary chief Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. The Supreme Leader has already appointed Shahroudi as head of the Committee for Arbitration and Adjustment of Relations between the Three Government Branches, a body created unconstitutionally by Khamenei. That committee appears to have much the same portfolio as the constitutionally mandated Expediency Council, such as resolving differences between the president and other branches of government. So far, though, it has remained a largely ceremonial body.

Conclusion

Over the past two decades, Khamenei has weakened the Islamic Republic’s political institutions in order to strengthen his own autocratic authority. He believes the country should be run by institutions directly under his control, principally the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the intelligence agencies, and the judiciary. Yet his self-confidence, along with the dysfunctional state of the parliament, president, and other political institutions, could ultimately make him more vulnerable in a time of crisis, since the public would hold him personally responsible for whatever decisions are made, including those seen as having led to the crisis.

Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on the politics of Iran and Shiite groups in the Middle East. Orginially published as PolicyWatch #1906 by the Washington Institute. Reprinted by permission.

Iran: Fair Vote Impossible

NewYork) – Iran’s parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2, 2012, will be grossly unfair because of arbitrary disqualifications and other restrictions,Human Rights Watch said today. The voting for 290 parliamentary seats follows the disqualification of hundreds of candidates based on vague and ill-defined criteria, and opposition leaders are either barred from participating, serving unjust prison sentences, or refusing to participate in what they consider sham elections.

On February 21, the Guardian Council, an unelected body of 12 religious jurists, announced that fewer than 3,500 of the approximately 5,400 candidates running for seats in the majlis, Iran’s parliament, had been approved to run. The Interior Ministry had earlier disqualified about 750 candidates. At least 35 of those disqualified by the Guardian Council are current members of parliament. In response to these and other state actions, Iran’s opposition and reformist movement have called for an election boycott.

“Iranian authorities have stacked the deck by disqualifying candidates and arbitrarily jailing key members of the reform movement,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.“There is no transparency surrounding the vetting and selection of candidates.”

Iran’s vetting process for both parliamentary and presidential candidates involves several stages. The Interior Ministry conducts a first cut of applicants based on criteria set by the election laws. While some of these criteria are concrete, such as age limits and educational requirements, most are extremely vague, enabling authorities to make sweeping and arbitrary decisions. Candidates have four days to appeal the Interior Ministry’s initial decision. Once the ministry compiles its list of “qualified” candidates, the Guardian Council makes the final decision on who may run for election.

On January 10, the Interior Ministry’s election commission disqualified several dozen candidates because of their “lack of adherence to Islam and the Constitution.” The disqualified candidates include several incumbents who were critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government. One of the disqualified candidates told Human Rights Watch that he received a note from local government authorities on January 10, informing him that he had been disqualified because he was allegedly affiliated with or supportive of “illegal” parties, organizations, or groups. He said the authorities gave him no additional information regarding the reasons for his disqualification, and he decided not to appeal the decision.

Human Rights Watch has learned that the latest list of candidates disqualified by the Guardian Council includes several members of the 15 members of the Sunni bloc in parliament. Among those who will no longer be members of parliament are Jalal Mahmoudzadeh and Eqbal Mohammadi, the former and current leaders of the bloc. On December 19, 2011, the faction had sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking him to protect the political and social rights of Iran’s Sunni minority.

Over the past few years, authorities have banned some reformist parties and severely restricted the activities of others. On September 27, 2010, the general prosecutor and judiciary spokesman announced a court order dissolving two reformist political parties, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution. Authorities prevent members of other pro-reform groups, like the Freedom Movement party, from holding gatherings.

The Guardian Council disqualifications came after reformist and opposition activists, some of whom are currently serving prison terms, denounced the upcoming elections and concluded that there was no reason to field candidates. On December 26, Fatemeh Karroubi relayed a message from her husband, Mehdi Karroubi, a former presidential candidate who has been under house arrest, calling the elections “a sham.” Several days later, the Iranian judiciary announced that calls for a boycott of the elections constituted “a crime.” On January 17, Saham News, a website affiliated with Karroubi’s Etemad-e Melli party, said that authorities were holding Karroubi incommunicadoand preventing him from seeing his family in retaliation for his criticisms of the upcoming elections.

Authorities continue to hold the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard, as well as Karroubi, under house arrest more than a year after they called for demonstrations in support of wide-scale protests following the disputed June 2009 presidential election. Dozens of other opposition figures are in prison after being unfairly tried for such offenses as “acting against the national security” and “propaganda against the regime.”

“Almost three years ago, following contested presidential elections, millions of Iranians marched through the streets chanting ‘Where’s my vote?’” Stork said. “Today those words still reverberate, reminding us of the government’s determination to deny its people the right to decide their own future.”

Human Rights Watch