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Iranian hardliners aim for total control

Shabnam von Hein
May 29, 2021

The Guardian Council has barred establishment candidate Ali Larijani from the presidential race. That says a lot about Iran's political culture.

Iranian woman casts ballot
Iranian presidential elections will be held on June 18Image: picture alliance/CITYPRESS 24

During a virtual session with Iranian MPs on Thursday, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended the Guardian Council decision to exclude a spate of moderates — including Ali Larijani — from the presidential election on June 18. The Guardian Council has the prerogative to vet all candidates based on their ideological stance and loyalty to Iran's political order.

Council members not only excluded former parliamentary speaker Larijani, but also acting Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. The decision sparked fierce criticism, especially on social media.

Former Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani
Ali Larijani has been squeezed out of the presidential raceImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Salemi

In a letter to Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday urged a rethink on the mater. According to news agency AFP, Rouhani stressed that "at its heart, elections are about competition; if you take that away, they are like a corpse."

Sadiq Larijani defends brother

The radical move was also condemned by Ali Larijani's brother Sadiq Larijani, who has served on the Guardian Council since 2001, and headed Iran's judicial system between 2009 and 2019. Ali Larijani was the moderate candidate thought to have the best chances of succeeding President Rouhani.

Sadiq Larijani took to Twitter to complain that his brother had been disqualified "based on false information from the secret service."

Indeed, rumors have circulated that Ali Larijani's daughter Fatemeh has emigrated to the US. Apparently she does not, however, possess US citizenship, which would have disqualified her father from the presidential race. Sadiq Larijani, meanwhile, asserts "falsehoods" had been deliberately spread among the Guardian Council to discredit his brother.

Reformists squeezed out of race

Iran's Guardian Council is comprised of twelve members. Six members ― all Islamic clerics ― are appointed by supreme leader Ali Khamenei. The remaining six are lawyers, suggested by the head of Iran's judiciary and approved by parliament.

Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei giving a television address
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei can appoint and dismiss six members of the powerful Guardian Council Image: Irna

One of the candidates running for the presidency is Iran's judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi. With Larijani gone, his chances have risen substantially.

"Larijani's surprising disqualification will have far-reaching consequences," Iran analysist Ali Afshari told DW's Farsi service. 

Afshari, who lives in US exile, was a supporter of Iran's more reform-oriented forces. He was arrested on several occasions and sentenced to jailtime, most recently in 2005, when he called for an election boycott after the Guardian Council disqualified moderates from running.

Afshari said Larijani's disqualification dashes all hope that elections will help reform Iran's political system. It showed, he told DW, that "the heart of Iran's political system, overseen by its religious leader, expects complete loyalty and does not tolerate criticism."

Too outspoken?

Ali Larijani's rejection illustrates just how intolerant the Guardian Council is of dissenting views. It's all the more surprising in light of Larijani's background. His father is late Grand Ayatollah Haj Mirza Hashem Amoli, after all. Moreover, Larijani is married to the daughter of influential Shia scholar Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari.

He is also an aide to Khamenei, albeit not a member of his close circle. "This is primarily because he never spoke out against opposition figures Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who were placed under house arrest in 2010," Afshari told DW. Larijani also "openly criticized Ebrahim Raisi and members of the Revolutionary Guard."

Iran: Theocracy vs. democracy

Sham election

Larijani is considered a close ally of moderate President Rouhani. And he supports reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

Ali Fathollah-Nedschad, a political scientist and Iran expert, told DW that by excluding moderate candidates like Larijani, Iran is headed for a sham election that is even less believable than previous polls. With a hardline president in office, he said, Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards would gain yet more influence in the country.

This, by extension, would also enhance their impact on the economy. Iran's hardliners are looking to take over all power in Iran — regardless of how disappointed the electorate is, or how low voter turnout will be, for that matter. One survey shows that it could stand at a mere 30%.

This article has been adapted from German.