Iran Heads for Presidential Vote in May without Contenders. Khamenei Eyes Soleimani
Astonishingly to any Westerner, Iran votes for a president in a few weeks on May 19 with not a single contender running for election. Even the incumbent Hassan Rouhani has still not revealed whether he will seek a second term.
In present-day revolutionary Iran, when an important issue is at stake, everything comes to a stop and waits for supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to pronounce. Rouhani could count on reelection if the ayatollah confirmed his candidacy. However the hardliners at the head of the clergy and the extremist Revolutionary Guards are doing their utmost to remove a president who dared to confer smiles on Western leaders. They have built up a strong case against him. He failed to make good on his pledge that the nuclear accord signed with six world powers in 2015, which he campaigned for, would raise the living standards and level of income for millions of Iranians.
But Rouhani is finding it hard, as time goes by and economic prosperity remains evasive, to defend the nuclear deal, which he once claimed as his crowning achievement. Too much is stacked up against him.
1. In a recent opinion poll, mainly in the big cities, 75 percent stated that their living standards had not risen in the wake of the nuclear accord and the lifting of sanctions.
2. Khamenei habitually devotes his public speeches to trashing Rouhani’s “rush to the West.” He argues that to preserve its unique role at the heart of the Shiite Islamic Revolution, Iran must cautiously develop relations with the West, while firmly insulating its culture from Western influence.
3. Tehran hears from Washington that the Trump administration is weighing fresh sanctions to force Iran to relinquish its nuclear and missile programs.
Three political factions are vying for public attention in the candidacy vacuum: the Principlists, the Reformists and a new group called the Moderates. None has yet chosen a candidate for president, which leaves Rouhani with some leeway.
At the same time, leading clerics are riding a wave of criticism against the president, especially in their Friday Prayer sermons.
In Mashad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alam of Hoda said that under the current administration, Iran had witnessed “deviation from the Resistance Economy” doctrine, which was designed to insulate the economy from the impact of sanctions and other external economic shocks.
In Tehran, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kerman inveighed against the “disaster” of the “luxurious life style enjoyed by those in power which separates them from the people.”
His audience easily grasped that he was referring to the scandal that erupted last year when some presidential administration officials were caught earning huge salaries and drawing illicit benefits.
The supreme leader is taking his time before tabbing a favorite. The name of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Al Qods chief who is commander of Iranian forces in the Middle East, is making the rounds in Tehran as a possible Khamenei candidate. Soleimani is one of the most violent critics of President Rouhani. Observers of the political scene in Tehran wonder how he finds the time to run three wars in the Middle East and yet campaign at home for high office.
Khamenei and conservative politicians appear to be considering him as a worthy candidate, who could win the election by virtue of his military exploits and charisma. They may also favor his candidacy as a hint to Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that the Islamic Republic is no pushover and follows its own star.