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Iranian presidential elections: The determinants and possibilities

D.Salim m.Alzanoon

Iranian presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Iran on May 19, 2017 to choose the eighth president in the history of the Republic , a mid of group of candidates distributed on Reformers (Eslaheen) and conservatives, and after the withdrawal of “Eshaq Jehangiri” in favor of the Rouhani, and the withdrawal of “Bagher Ghalibaf ” in favor of Ebrahim Raisi, so the competition remains between the four candidates, but more focused between the Rouhani and Raisi, noting that there are a variety of factors play a key role in determining the identity of the next president, the most important is the structural built up of the Iranian regime, and the role of policies and future visions of the state in determining the President, and in this context we address the determinants of the win in the elections ,and the potential foreign policy in the event of the win of any of the candidates.

First, the structural built up of the Iranian regime.

The Iranian regime is a unique system in its structure as opposed to conventional political systems, that the institutions of decision-making are multi levels.

Supreme Leader( Murshid) , comes on the top of the political system, and he is the first man in the country, he is the supreme commander of the armed forces, and determines the general policies of the country, and has the right to invalidate any decision , including the decisions of the President of the Republic.

The executive Authority , the second highest authority , headed by President of the Republic and thus he is the second man in the country politically after the Supreme leader (Murshid) ,and he forms also a government and headed it after a presentation of it to the parliament to win a vote of confidence from the parliament(Majlis), headed the Supreme National Security Council, the Supreme Council of the Revolution, and regulates the relationship between the three authorities.

The legislative Authority, the legislature comprises two powerful institutions: Parliament (Majlis) and the Guardian Council of the constitution, the Parliament consists of 290 members elected by secret ballot for a period of four years, it gives confidence to the Council of Ministers and has the right to withhold confidence from them, and empowered accountable the President, the enactment of laws, and ratify the imposition of martial law.
Judiciary Authority.

Besides this , there are three councils which have the final say in the affairs of the country ( the decision making ), namely: the Expediency Discernment Council and the Assembly of Experts of leadership and the Guardian Council of the constitution .

Expediency Discernment Council ; a 5- year period and it is an administrative assembly appointed by supreme leader and was created upon the revision to the constitution of the republic it was originally set up to resolve differences or conflicts between Majlis and the Guardian Council but its true power lies more in its advisory role to the Supreme Leader. it consists of 31 members, and considers the leaders of the three authorities are members automatically in the Council, and represents a supreme advisory body of the state, is formed by order of the Murshid to diagnose the interests of the state in cases in which the Guardian Council see that the parliament ‘s decision violates the rules of Sharia and the Constitution, and his mission to judge between the parliament and the Guardian Council, and its decisions are binding on the parties, as well as providing advice to the Murshid in the intractable problems, and in the case of the death of Murshid , or his disability , it is chosen by the decision of the Assembly of experts, a member of the leadership Council to undertake the tasks of the Murshid until the election of a new Murshid .

Assembly of Experts of the leadership, comprising 88 members of the Mujtahids (Faqihs) and its members are elected by direct vote for a period of 8 years, issue a confidential report every six months, including the assessment to the performance of the Murshid and his policies, and has the right to withhold confidence from the Murshid and dismiss him.

The Guardian Council of the constitution consists of 12 members including 6 religious men , faqihs (expert in Islamic law ) appointed by the Supreme Leader directly, and 6 of the experts of constitutional and civil law , they are civilians and those are appointed by the head of the judiciary authority, and after obtaining the confidence of parliament , the Council shall exercise the role of oversight and ratification of the all laws passed by the legislative authority, also monitors the election and approve its results, and its opinion is crucial in determining the eligibility of any candidate to it.

And the structural built up of a system indicates that strategic decisions in the state especially regarding the foreign policy, or defense and security, however, are in the hands of the supreme leader, and that candidates for parliament or the presidency must be approved by the Guardian Council, which is actually appointed by the Murshid and the judiciary, and according to this that all the candidates are part of the system and hold its ideas and vision towards all internal and external issues, and differences among them are in the tools and means to achieve the goals, and this is a misleading democratic process , aims to show Iran by a democratic appearance that mimics the Western democracy, but the real power is Located exclusively, however, in the hands of one person who is the supreme leader.

Second, the future policies of the state determines the identity of the President.
The Supreme Leader ( Murshid ) not the (head of state) makes policies and future visions of the state, and in the framework of it , the identity of the next president is determined , through the screening process to count votes carried out by the Guardian Council “appointed”, so that in this election it has liquidated the candidates from (1636) to ( 6) candidates only, and then the role of voters comes in resolving the competition based on the size of risks and threats , the more risks rose , the voter goes to conservatives and vice versa, and the historical experience of the Iranian elections since 1979 indicates that the president comes as a result of its compatibility with the future policies of the state:

In this context, the first Iranian president, “Abu Hassan Bani Sadr” was deposed in June, 1981, disagreeing with the leadership’s policies on American hostages, and the war on Iraq noting that the war on Iraq in the eighties of the last century was in need of a conservative leader in line with the policies and visions of leadership on risks, so revolutionary forces nominated Khamenei at that time.

After the end of the war, Iran was in need to arrange the internal situation and the reconstruction, so the voters and the leadership were heading towards the reformers (Alasalahin), so Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was supported, and in line with the vision of the leadership of the internal reform and openness to the West, Mohammad Khatami was elected, who launched the project of the dialogue of civilizations to bridge the gap between Tehran and the West, and opened to the countries of the region, including Saudi Arabia.

After the war of Iraq in 2003 and Iran’s facing a threat of a US or Israeli military strike, and the presence of Arab forces on its borders, the vision of leadership that Iran needs to see tough leaders on the face of the West, and was supporting the conservative candidate Ahmadinejad , but when Iran was exhausted by the economic sanctions, a tendency of leadership and voters have been to the reformist movement, which can open up to the West, and to negotiate on the nuclear issue, and the abolition of economic sanctions.

And this experience indicates to the inverse of the experience of countries, so that future policies and visions of leadership in Iran determine the identity of the president, not the president who determines the policies of the state.

Third: determinants of the win in the elections.

1. The future Policies and visions.

The Supreme Leader ( Murshid) in consultation with the Expediency Council determine the future policies and visions of the state, based on the international and regional variables, and in accordance with the previous historical experience , these policies and visions determine the identity of the next president , according to this perspective, the analysis of international and regional variables gives an initial indication of possible future policies, and based on this , It gives the expectations of the win of the next president.

At the international level, the political discourse of the new US administration indicates the adoption of a new foreign policy toward Tehran, so that the US National Security Council began a comprehensive assessment of US policy adopted towards it , and the United States intensified public criticism of Tehran , both from the president ,”Trump” or Foreign Minister, as it is responsible for the state of regional instability, and that the nuclear deal did not achieve its objective by making Iran a non – nuclear, and the practice of Washington put Iran under pressure, by imposing sanctions on 30 businessmen and companies from China and North Korea on the relationship to transfer technology of SM to Tehran, and to impose sanctions on the brother of Qassem Soleimani.

Besides this, a rise of the extreme right in Europe forms a change in the tactical visions of Tehran that may be paid by reciprocity, working to support the President from the conservatives; especially that the nuclear agreement did not achieve much of the economic gains.

At the regional level, the United States began the restoration of work on the strategy of pillars based on the strengthening of the relationship with its Arab allies, against the encircling of Iran, and the hard statements of Prince Mohammed bin Salman toward Iran, and the convergence of the Turkish – Russian relations on the Syrian crisis, all are factors that represent a starting point for conservatives to promote on the failure of the foreign policy of the Government of Rouhani.

2. The economy situation.

The economy is one of the most important weaknesses for the Rouhani, and the supreme leader (Murshid), has criticized him alot in this regard, including marks on the support of the Murshid to the candidate Ibrahim Raissi.

After the signing of the nuclear deal Iranians hopes rose about the possibility of improving the economic situation , but the economy is still suffering from the sanctions, by which the frozen funds value reached to about $ 120 billion, and the foreign companies are still reluctant to invest in Iran, despite the decline in Iranian inflation rate 0.3%, but the rate is still high 6.9%, and the Iranian currency against the dollar reached to nearly 4.1 thousand tomans , and the unemployment rate remains high as that reached in Iran to 12%, and thus the economic file in Iran constitutes a priority for voters.

3. Public freedoms.

The supporters of the Rouhani believes that he did not abide by his promises about giving more freedoms and the release of political prisoners and specifically Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Mehdi Karroubi, and a breakthrough is not happening in the political reform file, but it is difficult to make a breakthrough in these files where it is linked to the structure of the system and the distribution of powers, and the historical experience indicates that President Khatami was unable to intervene to stop the repression of the student uprising in 1999, so usually the candidates go to economic and social issues in an attempt to move away from the political situation

Thus, the international and regional variables as well as internal factors play a role in determining the identity of the President, all of which indicate the likelihood of the fortunes of the conservative movement, but keep it under the reality of variables and orientation of the Iranian voter, but it carries many risks notably the return of Iran to international isolation.

Fourth: Foreign policy.

The main foundations of the foreign policy of Iran is linked to the supreme leader with the participation of the Expediency Council , according to this ,the victory of any of the parties will not be effective in foreign policy-making, with different tools and means to implement it.
If the Conservatives win, the tensions with the US administration will rise, perhaps heading for the breach of the terms of the nuclear agreement with the West, in contrast to strengthen relations with Russia, and the evidence on that, the meeting in the last week in Mashhad between the a Russian delegation consisted of the 60 figure with the conservative candidate Ibrahim Raissi .

In the event of the win of Reformers (Alslaheen)
it is expected that the political and economic trade-off process will continue, and the continuation of pragmatic dealing with the West, the decline of the sharp degree of political discourse, and rising of opportunities for cooperation, with regard to the nuclear Convention, they will seek to preserve it, and the worst case if the West has sought to cancel it, the reformers will accept the modification of it rather than cancel.

Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies