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Iran's Elections: The Fallacy, Hype, and Oversimplification

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 29/02/2016 Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Democratic elections?
The media, primarily the Western mainstream outlets, have been carried away with their characterization of Iran's elections. Vital, crucial, the most significant, dynamic, critical, and decisive are some example of words being used to characterize Iran's elections for the parliament (Majlis) and the Assembly of Experts.
Depicting the outcome of the current Iranian elections as the dominant and controlling factor in shaping and determining Iran's leadership, domestic and foreign policies, not only fails to grasp the complexities and nuances of Iran's social, political, and economic establishments, but also point to the predominant misconceptions, oversimplifications, hype and lack of knowledge about Iran.
Let's take a look at the twin elections in detail.
The Elections for the Assembly of Experts
The Assembly of Experts consists of 86 clerics who are elected by the people. Nevertheless, before anyone is permitted to run, they are vetted by the hardline organization; the Council of Guardians. The twelve members of Guardian Council, are appointed directly (six members) and indirectly ( nominated by the head of Judiciary which, in return, is appointed by the Supreme Leader) by the Supreme Leader.
Without a doubt, the twelve members of the Guardian Council owe their position to the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei), represent the agenda of Khamenei, and disqualify any one whose viewpoints are not in alignment with Khamenei. For example, the Guardian Council even banned the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Hossein Khomeini, from running for a seat in the Assembly of Experts.

Furthermore, the responsibility of the Assembly of Experts is to appoint Iran's Supreme Leader. In other words, for the last 28 years this political body has been sitting idly by waiting for the time that Khamenei dies. But the question is, do they really appoint the next Supreme Leader?
When Khamenei came to power, he sidelined the powerful clerics who had a high level of religious authority. The Guardian Council, Khamenei's political tool, allows low level hardline clergy who have shown their loyalty and fidelity to Khamenei, and the senior cadre of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps to run for the Assembly of Experts. The 86 members, which owe their position and salary to Khamenei, have never questioned him.

The only time that the Assembly of Experts had to appoint a Supreme Leader was in 1989 when Khomeini died. According to several Iranian politicians and Rafsanjani's writings, it took the 86 members only couple of hours to appoint Khamenei.
But Khamenei was already being prepared by IRGC leaders and Khomeinei to become the next Supreme Leader long before this, after they removed Ayatollah Hoosein Ali Montazeri, the designated successor, because he had a falling-out with Khomenei and because he criticized the Islamic Republic for marrying religion with politics. Since Khamenei was not a "marja", the IRGC even removed an article in the constitution which requires the Supreme Leader to be"marja" .
The Assembly of Experts approved Khamenei because he was already picked by IRGC and Khomenei. When Khamenei dies, the next Supreme Leader will also be the one who is chosen by the leaders of Revolutionary Guards.

Elections for the parliament (Majlis)

In the last 35 years, Iran's parliament have always been looking for the Supreme Leader's approval or disapproval in order to pass or reject significant bills, linked to the nuclear deal, assisting Syria financially, the military budget, etc.
For instance, although the current parliament is controlled by the hardliners, they did not create a problem for Iran's President, Rowhani (the moderate) regarding the nuclear deal. They passed it because that's what the Supreme Leader and IRGC leaders wanted in order to get economic relief. In fact, even before Rouhani became President, Khamenei and IRGC leaders were preparing the political establishment to make a deal with the West for removal of economic sanctions.
In addition, candidates for parliament also have to be approved by the Guardian Council beforehand. But even when the Guardian Council made a mistake in Khatami's era and allowed the reformists to run and control the parliament, the reformists were immediately constrained by the IRGC forces; their newspapers were shut, and many of the members were imprisoned when they indicated that they might not align with the IRGC and Supreme Leader's agenda.

In closing, analysis of Iran's elections for the parliament (Majlis) and the Assembly of Experts have been subject to political polemics, misconceptions, oversimplifications, hype, lack of knowledge, and less than scholarly work. It is crucial to look beyond the surface and realize that when it comes to major decisions such as choosing the next leaders, or the nuclear deal, etc, the IRGC- the military empire, and Khamenei, have control over political and economic life of Iran, and make the decisions.
The IRGC which was created by Khomeini and empowered by Khamenei, have indeed evolved to be the father and major decision maker of the Islamic Republic.
Iran's elections look competitive and democratic on the surface, but they are conducted within the larger, restrictive, controlled, despotic, non-representative and non-competitive framework put in place by those few leaders who make the final decisions behind the closed doors.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an American political scientist, business advisor and the president of the International American Council on the Middle East. Harvard-educated, Rafizadeh serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review. An American citizen, he is originally from Iran and Syria, lived most of his life in Iran and Syria till recently. He is a board member of several significant and influential international and governmental institutions, and he is native speaker of couple of languages including Arabic and Persian. He also speaks English and Dari, and can converse in French, Hebrew.
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You can contact him at or follow him at @Dr_Rafizadeh. This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.
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