Opposition leaders to Khamenei Hashemi Rafsanjani (l.) and President Hassan Rouhani
US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry fondly hoped that the nuclear agreement signed with Iran would bring to the surface a new type of leader – more liberal and less liable to restart the nuclear program – in the twin elections taking place in the Islamic Republic Friday, Feb. 26.
They are in for a disappointment, say debkafile’s Iran analysts.
But one change is almost certain. The Iranian voter will be choosing for the first time on one day a new parliament (Majlis) and the Assembly of Experts, the only body competent to choose the republic’s next supreme leader. The incumbent, 75-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is not expected to outlast the four-year term of the next Assembly of Experts. He has been struggling with prostate cancer for more than five years. Treatment and surgery have failed to halt its spread to other parts of his body. And strong medication is necessary to keep him looking alert and vigorous in his public appearances.
Speculation is already rife in Tehran about who the next Assembly of Experts will choose as his successor.
Seen from the perspective of Iran’s Islamic regime, the supreme leader’s overarching duty is to continue the legacy of its revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor, Ali Khamenei.
Rather than meeting the expectations of the US president, his main job is to continue strengthening Iran on its path of religious extremism, ideological subversion, export of the Shiite revolution (by terror) and the continuation of the nuclear program.
The biggest political bombshell of the election campaign was a proposal by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani to establish a national leadership council now, instead of choosing a new leader later. This was intended to replace the single dictatorial rule of the supreme leader by a collective leadership.
Iran’s fundamentalists, especially the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), were in uproar about a proposal they viewed as so dangerous for the regime that they threatened to confiscate the Rafsanjani clan’s extensive property and put him on trial for corruption and fraud.
His beloved son Mahdi has already been in jail for months on those charges.
But Rafsanjani is not easily cowed. He knew that if he backed down, the extremists would crack down on him still harder.
So this week, he announced that he had pulled the strings which gave Hassan Rouhani victory in the last presidential election. And, in the campaign leading up to the Assembly of Experts vote, he threw his support behind a moderate cleric, Hassan Khomeini, who happens to be the grandson of the Islamic regime’s iconic founder.
The IRGC and radical mullahs thereupon launched an offensive to thwart what they believed to be Rafsanjani’s dangerous plan to establish a triumvirate with Rouhani and Khomeini Junior to head a future government.
Senior radical clerics, such as ayatollahs Ahama Alam-Alhoda, Mohammad Mesbah-Yazdi, Ahmad Jannati, and Mohammad Yazi, slandered him and fought to remove his candidates for the twin slates.
They branded the former president and members of a “reformist” list as British agents, a particularly malicious charge because the UK is still seen in Iran as a symbol of colonialism and meddler in foreign politics.
Ayatollah Khamenei himself harshly denounced “foreign agents” as “addicted to foreign influence,” who should be barred from the Assembly of Experts.
Young Khomenei saw the light and withdrew his candidacy for its membership. But Rafsanjani stood out to the last as a central figure in the two campaigns, even after a majority of the candidates condemned as “moderates and reformists” were barred from the elections.
In the end, the two slates were left with no more than 30 moderate candidates out of a total of 3,000 vying for the 375 seats in the two bodies.
Their defeat as a group was predestined, and the two elections leave Iran more politically and religiously radicalized than before.
A key figure expected to take center stage in the new parliament is Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, whose daughter is married to Khamenei’s mover-and-shaker son. Another is Haddad-Adel, one of Khamenei’s top advisers, who heads a faction of religious fundamentalists and IRGC officers. He is the frontrunner to succeed Ali Larijani as Speaker of the next Majlis.
They are all expected to gang up to prevent President Rouhani from running for a second term when it runs out in two years – contrary to the Obama administration’s hopes. They will also do their best to make him a lame duck and whipping boy for all the country’s economic ills for the remainder of his presidency.
He will find the new parliament less cooperative than the outgoing House under Larijani when he tries to introduce liberal policies.
Unofficial results of the two elections are expected to be released Friday night. The extremists and hardliners have engineered them so that they will win big and set Iran on a course that it is even more radical than before on such key issues as its nuclear weapons program and intervention in Syria and other Middle East conflicts. They will keep the feud with Saudi Arabia alive and pursue every possible means of venting their bottomless hatred of Israel and seeking its destruction.