He would change Iran, but don’t hold out hope

By Meir Javedanfar, May 17, 2013
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A woman passes a Rafsanjani campaign poster during the 2005 election (Photo AP)

A woman passes a Rafsanjani campaign poster during the 2005 election (Photo AP)

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s decision to register as a candidate for the June 14 presidential elections in Iran has created much excitement.

But it is not worth holding out much hope that he gets elected.

First and foremost, Mr Rafsanjani has to convince the all-powerful Guardian Council to allow him to stand. This will not be an easy task. The 12-member council is made up entirely of people who are close to supreme leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei and the politically powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC).

Over the years, both Khamenei and the IRGC have had a rocky relationship with Mr Rafsanjani. If they decide to let him run by getting the Guardian Council to qualify him as a candidate, most likely it would be because of recommendations by the regime’s various intelligence agencies stating that disqualifying Mr Rafsanjani could create disturbances before the elections. On May 23, the Guardian Council will announce its final decision on who is qualified to run. Mr Rafsanjani’s chances stand at 50 per cent — at best.

Even if he does get over that hurdle, the chances of him being picked as president by Khamenei are 10 per cent.
The next elections in Iran are not going to be democratic. Like in 2009, they are going to be decided by the supreme leader, in consultation with other unelected groups such as the IRGC and the mainly conservative wing of Iranian politics.

All of these important centres of power are strongly against Mr Rafsanjani. A major reason for their opposition are the policies that he would want to apply as president.

Mr Rafsanjani is well known for wanting improved relations with the West. Many hardliners suspect that he would want to reach a compromise over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Recently he even went as far as saying that Iran was not at war with Israel. This was an unwelcome departure from Khamenei’s anti-Israel statements.

Worse, Mr Rafsanjani would want market liberalisation. This would mean that the IRGC would lose its growing economic clout. These days, the Revolutionary Guard maintains the revolution more thanks to lucrative insider business deals than through its revolutionary ideals. And they are not about to let Mr Rafsanjani take their business empire away from them.

Meanwhile, Khamenei is unlikely to want to pick such a divisive personality among his allies. If you are a betting person, do not bet on a Rafsanjani
victory.

Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst. He tweets as @Meirja

Last updated: 7:45pm, May 17 2013