Reformist pawns in 2013 Iranian presidential election?

Will the Reformist faction be allowed to participate in the 2013 Iranian presidential election? This is turning out to be one of the biggest questions in Iranian politics for the coming year. A recent interview by the Young Journalists Club with Ali Saeedi, representative of the supreme leader to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), may be a sign that the regime is willing to allow Reformists to participate, albeit not for the reasons Reformists imagine. The Reformists, a moderate faction in the Islamic Republic’s political establishment, have been excluded from power by the regime since the 2009-2010 Green Movement protests which they are accused of having organized and led.

In the interview Saeedi discussed the Reformist faction’s time in power (1997-2005), saying that despite having the opportunity to do positive things within the framework of the regime, they instead broke many of the norms of the Islamic Republic, crossed “red lines”, and undermined the people’s values and beliefs. He asserted that the Reformists’ irresponsible governance convinced the Iranian people to turn their backs on them from 2001 onward, referring to the beginning of the Reformists gradual declining culminating in the loss of the presidency to the Principalist faction led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.

Saeedi then accused Reformists of abusing the Iranian people’s trust by claiming electoral fraud in 2009. He cited as evidence a meeting between ex-intelligence minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei and presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi in 2009. When asked by the then intelligence minister if he would accept the election if the results of the June 2009 vote were annulled and a second vote was held with similar results (i.e. an Ahmadinejad victory), Mousavi allegedly said that he would still not accept the election.

However, Saeedi emphasized that not all Reformists were beyond redemption and that some would be allowed back into the fold:

“There are ways for returning to the regime for those individuals who were quiet during the sedition [the regime’s terminology for the Green Movement] or only supported it indirectly during certain periods…By asking for forgiveness, clearly confessing their errors, and [giving] guarantees that they accept the principles and foundations of the regimes, these individuals can open the way [back] into the social and political domain.”

Saeedi specifically discussed the fate of ex-president Mohammad Khatami, the most prominent Reformist not under house arrest. He said that Khatami’s indecisive behaviour during the 2009-2010 protests, in which he did not strongly support the Green Movement but did not condemn it either, would play in his favour but that he would have to apologize for actions taken during his presidency, including appointing “irresponsible individuals” to key positions and meeting with American financier George Soros. Only then would he be allowed to re-enter the Iranian political establishment. The characterization of ex-president Khatami as indecisive by Saeedi may have been a veiled reference to the perception among segments of the Iranian elite and population that Khatami is a weak and irresolute public figure.

In his speech Saeedi also called for Principalist unity in the upcoming election, raising the dangers that discord among Principalists would present for the regime.

Editor’s note: As mentioned previously on IranPolitik, the Reformists face several hurdles in the lead up to the 2013 Iranian presidential election. First, would a Reformist candidate be allowed to participate? Even if one was to make it through the Guardian Council’s filter, would Iranians vote for a political faction with a mixed track record and many recent failures? Finally, even if Reformists won an election, would they be allowed to assume power, or would we see a repeat of 2009?

Saeedi’s comments may be a sign that at least some Reformists will be allowed to participate. In emphasizing unity among the Principalist faction however, Saeedi may have let slip one of the real motivations for possibly allowing Reformists to take part in the election. By allowing a Reformist candidate to run in the 2013 election, the regime could make the Principalist faction feel threatened by a popular backlash bringing Reformists back to power and thereby create greater unity among Principalists who have been fighting amongst themselves since the end of the Green Movement. This infighting reared its head in the Iranian parliamentary election in March 2012. At the same time, it is unlikely that the Reformists like Khatami would pose any actual threat to the regime or the ruling Principalists. The Reformists could thus become a valuable tool to bolster Principalist unity but would likely not be allowed to win the election or take office.