Iranians go to the ballot box today to cast votes in two elections: one for the Assembly of Experts and the other for parliament. The former is charged with choosing and supervising the supreme leader, while the latter is ostensibly the country’s main legislative institution. Of the two elections, the Assembly of Experts ballot is the more consequential, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s poor health means the incoming members will likely choose his successor during their eight-year term. Like the parliamentary election, however, its results are largely foreordained, as the only candidates allowed to run are those deemed to pose no challenge to the ruling hardline establishment.
The clerics whom Khamenei appointed to the Guardian Council – which vets all political candidates for ideological purity – have already disqualified 80 percent of the Assembly’s roughly 800 contenders. (Similarly, the Council nixed more than half of the candidates for parliament, including most reformers). The 161 approved contenders are competing for the Assembly’s 88 seats, meaning an average of 1.8 candidates per seat. For some seats there is only one approved candidate.
The bulk of the disqualified candidates represent comparatively pragmatic elements of the ruling elite – among them Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s late founder and first supreme leader. On the other hand, most of the approved contenders are radical revolutionaries – devotees of the supreme leader with close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It is mathematically impossible for the less-hardline factions to win at the ballot box.
As a result, those supposed “moderates” who were approved have been forced to round off their party lists with hardline candidates. These hardliners include Mohammad Movahedi Kermani, the supreme leader’s former representative to the IRGC, who a week after last year’s nuclear deal was signed, delivered a Friday sermon behind a podium bearing the words, “We will trample upon America.” Others are Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi – a former intelligence minister responsible for a string of assassinations of intellectuals – and Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri, another ex-intelligence minister who oversaw the murder of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s.
Knowing that it cannot win the election, the more pragmatic camp – led by ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani and current president Hassan Rouhani – has set its objectives exceedingly low. It aims merely to keep only a handful of the most hardline rivals out of the Assembly – candidates like current Assembly of Experts Speaker Mohammad Yazdi, Judiciary Chief Justice Sadegh Larijani, and Guardian Council Chair Ahmad Jannati – and then portray the election as a victory.
The unavoidable truth, however, is that Iran’s less-hardline candidates have already lost the election, and the Assembly will be again dominated by radicals. With his handpicked clerics controlling the Assembly of Experts election, Khamenei is making sure that when he leaves this world his successor will be a radical, too.
Saeed Ghasseminejad is an associate fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @SGhasseminejad