KAHLILI: New election in Iran, but same result

The new president will represent the ayatollahs, not the people

With the Iranian presidential election to be held this Friday, the clerical regime’s ayatollahs are begging people to vote, fearing worldwide scorn without substantial voter participation.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged Iranians to make the presidential election this year an epic event, and his mouthpiece clerics have in recent days come out promoting such a turnout.

“Anyone who does not participate in the election will surely end up in hell,” warned Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer leader in the city of Mashhad and a member of the country’s Assembly of Experts (the body that chooses the supreme leader).

A close adviser to the supreme leader, Hojatoleslam Alireza Panahian, begged people to vote: “People should vote, for God’s sake.”

The worried clerical establishment wants to paint an image of wide participation and long lines to show the world that it has popular support at home and that the 2009 protests were a rare event.

Millions of Iranians took to the streets in 2009 protesting the fraudulent presidential election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office for a second term. Thousands were arrested with many tortured, raped and executed. The clerics want none of that this time around.

Under the Islamic republic’s constitution, the 12-member Guardian Council decides the eligibility of candidates for office, and anyone with a history of opposing the regime is barred from participation. The council is made up of six Islamic faqihs (experts in Islamic law) appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (who is himself appointed by the supreme leader), and then approved by the parliament.

To avoid another voter uprising, the Guardian Council this time even disqualified one of the most loyal figures of the regime itself, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who wanted to run on a platform of greater freedom. With the knowledge that Ayatollah Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Khamenei do not see eye to eye on everything, the council worried that people might come out en masse and show their hatred toward the regime by voting for Ayatollah Rafsanjani, as they did in 2009 by voting for Mir Hossein Mousavi. A source in the Revolutionary Guards intelligence division led to my report that Mr. Mousavi actually won that election only to see the supreme leader step in and change the results in favor of Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Now the regime wants to show the world that people still support it and so, according to the same source, an order has gone out to all government employees that they, along with their families, must participate. The order includes military personnel and instructs them to wear plain clothes only. The source said the regime has already prepared Photoshop images of big lines at election centers and has prepared a statement announcing more than 80 percent participation and more than 40 million votes cast (more than was cast in the 2009 elections), which they will announce as a big victory and “slap to the enemy (America).”

The eight approved candidates on the ballot are trusted agents of the regime, but it remains to be seen who will be selected by the clerical establishment as the winner despite the actual voter outcome. However, most of the candidates have committed criminal acts, including two with arrest warrants issued against them by either Interpol or Argentine courts for the 1994 Jewish Community Center bombing in Buenos Aires: Mohsen Rezaei, the ex-chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards, and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati.

Another candidate, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the current mayor of Tehran and former police commander, has said of the 1999 student protests: “I was the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Air Force at the time. Photographs of me are available showing me on the back of a motorbike, with Hossein Khaleqi, beating [the protesters] with wooden sticks. … I was among those carrying out beatings on the street level and I am proud of that. I didn’t care that I was a high-ranking commander.”

I revealed last October that Mr. Velayati, currently a close adviser to the supreme leader on international affairs, has held several secret talks with American counterparts in discussing ways to reduce tensions between the two countries.

Mr. Velayati, who has good relations with someone close to the Obama administration, seems to be the candidate that the supreme leader would want to be the next Iranian president. He has years of experience on the international level; plus, owing to his American connection, he could start a dialogue with the United States to try to ease sanctions, stop the collapse of the country’s economy and buy more time for the ayatollahs to develop nuclear weapons.

However, the Revolutionary Guards, who control all aspects of the country, have someone else in mind. Mr. Ghalibaf, a former guard commander who fought in the Iran-Iraq War, could be the ace card for the guards, extending their reach into the presidential palace and the lucrative benefits that come with it.

The rest of the candidates are all yes men to the supreme leader, including Saeed Jalili, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator.

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