May 16, 2013 | Policy Brief

Why Iran’s Elections Will Not Be Democratic

May 16, 2013 | Policy Brief

Why Iran’s Elections Will Not Be Democratic

By FDD Staff

Six hundred and eighty six Iranian citizens have registered as candidates for the eleventh presidential elections scheduled to be held in Iran on Friday, June 14, 2013. Most presidential hopefuls however, are bound to be defeated without ever appearing on the ballot. The Guardian Council [Showra-ye Negahban] will disqualify most candidates. (Appendix 1)

According to Article 114 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the president “is elected for a four-year term by the direct vote of the people.” But it’s not as simple as that.  Article 115 stipulates that “the president must be elected from among religious and political personalities [rejal].” The term rejal derives from Arabic.  It can alternatively be translated as “distinguished individuals” or “men.” The Guardian Council has opted for the latter interpretation, and systematically bars women from running for president. This rules out half of Iran’s population, including the thirty female candidates who registered for this year’s election.

Article 115 also stresses that the candidates must have “convinced belief in… the official religion of the country.”  This means that Iran’s religious minorities—Sunnis and non-Muslims—cannot be elected.  That rules out another ten percent of the country’s population.

Article 115 further states that candidates must be of “administrative capacity and resourcefulness; a good past-record; trustworthiness and piety.”   In this way, the Guardian Council effectively arrogated to itself the right to determine who can run for president.

The grounds upon which the Guardian Council disqualifies the candidates are hardly known to the candidates themselves, let alone to the public at large. Since 1980, only two candidates’ attempts at reversing the Guardian Council has proved successful.  In 2005, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei intervened on behalf of Mostafa Moin and Mohsen Mehralizadeh—but the move was actually viewed as a manipulation of the election because it served to divide the votes among reformists.

This election cycle, it is likely that the qualified candidates will include Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, president Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Other candidates who may make it to the ballot are veterans of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), including Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili, and former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaei. Such a list of candidates hardly bodes well for the prospects of reforming the Islamic Republic.

Appendix 1: Guardian Council Disqualification Presidential Candidates 1980-2013

Election Date Candidates Examined by the Guardian Council Candidates Approved by the Guardian Council
January 25, 1980 124* 8**
July 24, 1981 71 4
October 2, 1981 46 4
August 16, 1985 50 3
July 28, 1989 79 2
June 11, 1993 128 4
May 23, 1997 238 4
June 8, 2001 817 10
June 17, 2005 & June 24, 2005 1014 7***
June 12, 2009 475 4
June 14, 2013 686 ?

* One hundred and seven names were to be found on the ballot.

** Despite no candidate being formally disqualified, only eight candidates were allowed to appear on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

*** The Guardian Council approved the candidacy of five candidates, but the number was increased to seven through the extralegal intervention of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.


Iran Iran Human Rights