June 4, 2013 | National Post
Iran’s Next President Won’t Be a ‘Moderate’
Co-authored by Saeed Ghasseminejad
When Iranian voters go to the polls to elect a new president on June 14, their choice will not matter in any real sense: Whoever wins the contest, the next president won’t be a moderate. And he won’t be someone inclined to clean up the corruption that infests the Islamic Republic.
Western observers tend to fret about Iranian politicians’ supposed credentials as “moderates,” “reformers” or “hardliners” — usually with an eye to the nuclear issue and relations with the West. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who recently was disqualified from running for President, had been pegged a moderate, and some also use that term to describe his suave one-time foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati. Others speculate about whether Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, is more reasonable than his successor, Saeed Jalili, who appears to be the front-runner among the eight candidates left in the race.
But such handicapping is useless: No matter who is elected as Iran’s President, the man who actually would be in charge of negotiations with the West is the unelected Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. This is a theocrat who would rather “eat grass” than renounce nuclear weapons.
Thanks to the machinations of the “Guardian Council” which has the power to approve or ban politicians from elections, there is no truly moderate voice in the field of presidential candidates. Mr. Velayati, a supposed moderate, was foreign minister when Iranian agents, with the aid of Iranian diplomatic missions, murdered exiled opponents in Vienna, Paris, Geneva and Berlin in the early 1990s. On his watch, Iran’s embassy in Argentina played a critical role in the terror attack on a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994, which left 85 people dead. Mr. Velayati is wanted for that crime along with former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezai, another presumed “moderate” candidate who has also been accused of running a mafia-style cigarette-smuggling business.
Westerners hope for an Iranian president who will at least not deny the Holocaust or prophesize the coming of End Times. The man likeliest to fit that description is the current mayor of Tehran, former Revolutionary Guard officer Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. In a recent jibe at the outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Qalibaf decried Ahmadinejad’s obsession with Holocaust denial — something that Western media seized upon immediately with a sigh of relief. Pity they did not read between the lines. Qalibaf was just decrying the damage caused to Iran and the Palestinian cause by Holocaust denial. He then went on to observe that Israel was “a cancerous tumor” in the region.
Affirming the Holocaust’s historical truth while auguring for a modern recurrence is not exactly moderation’s trademark, but it is in line with Qalibaf’s other rather immoderate credentials: He has publicly bragged about his leading role in putting down the 1999 and 2003 Tehran student riots.
Iranian voters, for their part, are not that concerned about whether the regime will eventually build nukes or get along with the West. Instead, they worry about their empty stomachs and bank accounts. Voters harbor little hope of drastic political change after the June 14 vote; they would settle for someone who will run their economy more honestly and competently.
But it is doubtful whether such concerns were a factor in the Iranian Guardian Council’s decisions about who to approve and who to disqualify as candidates. Take conservative candidate, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, the former speaker of Iran’s parliament, and the father-in-law of the Supreme Leader’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei. His familial ties have made him a rich man — especially since Khamenei had him appointed to the board of directors of Petro Nahad alongside his son Mojtaba.
Khamenei himself recently established Petro Nahad to control all energy-sector contracts, thereby evading any parliamentary oversight or public scrutiny. The country’s energy sector is being crushed under the weight of sanctions and mismanagement — but Haddad Ali is making a profit.
At least Iranians will be spared Ahmadinejad’s vice-presidents, Mohammad Reza Rahimi and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, in next month’s contest. Neither is known for either honesty or moderation.
Rahimi was accused by his opponents of participating in the biggest insurance fraud in Iran’s history. He is also a rabid anti-Semite, having blamed the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, for the global spread of drugs. Mashaei, for his part, has all too often thrown his weight behind questionable business figures caught up in corruption cases, including, most notably, Amir Mansour Khosravi, the leading suspect in Iran’s biggest embezzlement case to date.
With their choices ranging from assassin to crony, Iranians have no real choice at the ballot box. There is neither reform nor moderation in store for an ideologically driven religious autocracy. The only hope for Iran is regime change — which must be the goal of Western foreign policy.
Mr. Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. Mr. Ghasseminejad is a Ph.D. candidate at Baruch College in New York.