Iran Election Watch 2013: Why Hashemi-Rafsanjani will not be reinstated / Is a conflict brewing between Khamenei and Mesbah-Yazdi?

Why Hashemi-Rafsanjani will most likely not be reinstated by Khamenei

Former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s rejection for candidacy in the 2013 Iranian presidential election by the Council of Guardians has come as a shock to not only his many adherents but also seasoned Iran watchers. As we argued on 21 May however there were a number of signs in the week leading up to the CoG’s decision that the regime might disqualify him on the basis of his advanced age or other grounds. While it is difficult to know for certain Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the CoG’s true reasons for disqualifying Hashemi-Rafsanjani, one motivation may have been the palpably positive social reaction to his entry into the presidential race. Hardliners may have prevented his candidacy to prevent a repeat of June 2009.

Some observers however are arguing that as with Mostafa Moin and Mohsen Mehralizadeh in the 2005 presidential election, the decision to disqualify Hashemi-Rafsanjani may be reversed by Khamenei. This analogy may be wrong for at least two reasons. First, in 2005 the balance of power between hardliners and Reformists was not the same as the balance between hardliners and Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s Centrists and Reformists today. Then Reformists had stronger influence within Iran’s elected centers of power and were able to mobilize more popular support, as demonstrated by the reaction to the disqualifications of many Reformists for the 2004 parliamentary election. Today, Centrists and Reformists (who are working hand-in-hand) are much weaker and hardliners are much more deeply entrenched in both elected and unelected centers of power. Second, in 2005 there was a simple but clever logic for Khamenei’s decision to reinstate Moin and Mehralizadeh: By doing so, Khamenei was splitting the Reformists vote into three rather than allowing them to go forward with a single candidate which could have garnered a majority in the first or second round. This strategy worked and Reformists went into the elections divided, not even making it into the second round of voting.  Today, by allowing Hashemi-Rafsanjani to run, Khamenei would be uniting Centrists and Reformists around a single strong figure. By disqualifying him however he has left both groups scattered and without a heavy hitter in the election.

 Khomeini’s family comes out to support Hashemi-Rafsanjani, but does it really matter?

At least two prominent members of the household of the Islamic Republic’s founder the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (beyt-e Imam Khomeini), a group of individuals which is treated with a level of reverence in the Islamic Republic, have come out in support of Hashemi-Rafsanjani. It is well-known in the Islamic Republic that Khomeini’s descendants have strong ties with Reformists. Given that the latter political current is backing Hashemi-Rafsanjani and the Centrists for this election Khomeini’s family has also been mobilized for the cause.

Zahra Mostafavi, Khomeini’s daughter, wrote to Khamenei on 23 May asking for Hashemi-Rafsanjani to be reinstated. She claimed that her father had had enormous esteem for Hashemi-Rafsanjani and saw him as a possible successor as supreme leader. She also beseeched Khamenei to prevent Iran from becoming a dictatorship, reciting a famous quote from her father to drive home her point: “The Guardianship of the Jurist (velayat-e faghih) exists to prevent anyone from simply doing whatever they want and the Guardianship of the Jurist wants to prevent dictatorship.”

Hassan Khomeini, Khomeini’s grandson and overseer of his legacy, wrote directly to Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 22 May to express his solidarity, saying that the hearts of the friends of the former president, Khomeini, and the supreme leadership were heavy with grief. They younger Khomeini said that while there was no doubt that Hashemi-Rafsanjani was a very senior figure in the regime, what was more important was the momentum he had created among the people for the election: “I wished that the Imam and those close to him were here to see these moments.”

Hassan Khomeini also said that 90 percent of the people visiting Khomeini’s mausoleum (which the younger Khomeini oversees) favored Hashemi-Rafsanjani for the election, summarizing these sentiments eloquently: “From this moment on the name of Hashemi-Rafsanjani shall not only be tied to struggle and revolution, Holy Defense [the Iran-Iraq War], and the reconstruction, but your name shall also be associated with hope for the future [and] shall find a significant place in the memories of the Iranian people. And it is this that shall make your name immortal. Hope is the real wealth of a nation.”

Regardless of the esteem in which Khomeini’s household is held and their eloquent letters, they are unlikely to influence the course of events. Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s disqualification is part of a high stakes game for control of the Islamic Republic, and in this regard the Khomeini’s descendants are marginal players.

Is a conflict brewing between Khamenei and Mesbah-Yazdi?

In the 2013 election the hardline cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, seen by many as at one point being President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor, has tried to play a role in the election by supporting hardline candidate and former Minister of Health Kamran Bagheri-Lankarani. Interestingly however, even after Bagheri-Lankarani stepped aside in favor of fellow hardliner Saeed Jalili, Mesbah-Yazdi continues cheer-leading for Bagheri-Lankarani by using almost hyperbolic language to sing his praises. Mesbah-Yazdi has gone as far as to say that he would give a testament before God that Bagheri-Lankarani is the best candidate, that such a testament would be considered a “golden page” in the book of all he has done, and that he will not retreat from his support for the former minister of health by one step.

When Jalili arrived in Qom earlier this week to seek advice from various senior Shi’a clergymen, as has become customary for presidential candidates, he did not go to see Mesbah-Yazdi. It cannot be said with certainty who snubbed whom, but it is not unlikely that it was Mesbah-Yazdi who snubbed Jalili because his own favored candidate did not go forward in the election. Regardless, Mesbah-Yazdi’s behaviour as of late and the lack of a meeting with Jalili may be a sign that a conflict is brewing between the senior Shi’a clergyman and Khamenei. This is one conflict however that Mesbah-Yazdi is not well-placed to win.