“Resistance Economy” – Main Theme of Iran’s Tight Presidential Race
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, when he founded the Islamic Revolutionary Republic of Iran in 1979, laid down the following precept: Iran will be dependent neither on East or West, but choose “economic and political resistance as a means to preserve its autonomy.”
His successor 38 years later, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei echoed the founding father’s dictum when he ordained the coming year to be the “Year of the Resistance Economy. For him, the dictum was dug out as an inspirational slogan to divert the ordinary Iranian from his severe economic straits when he voted for a new president on Friday, May 19.
Youth unemployment officially listed as 30 percent is much closer to 50 percent; the Iranian real estate market is frozen; this year, it shrank by 13 percent, although last year’s national growth stood at 6.6 percent, mainly due to the injection of a $150 billion bonanza released by lifted sanctions and the opening up of Iran’s oil markets. These were rewards for accepting a nuclear deal with six world powers.
But those rewards and their attendant prosperity never filtered down to the man in the street, hence the voter. It is drained off by rampant corruption in ruling circles, the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ monopolistic control of the country’s economic and military resources by means of a bloated bureaucracy; and the expense of running Shiite militias to underpin Iranian influence across the region and conduct subversion. The most prominent beneficiaries are the Lebanese Hizballah and the Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani Shiite groups.
And finally, Iran’s military involvement in major wars in Syria and Yemen is consuming large chunks of Iran’s national treasure.
None of the candidates running for president would dare link any of these endeavors to the country’s economic woes. All but one is careful not to depart from the party line laid down by the supreme leader, i.e., that “economic resistance” is fundamental to the Islamic revolution’s political and social ideology and the source of the Islamic republic’s strength to prevail over America, Israel and all its other enemies.
Khamenei, after warning the candidates that they stepped away from this slogan at their peril, was astonished to find the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, pinning his campaign for a second term on a different tune.
Rouhani was stumping on a pledge to open up the economy to foreign investment so as to revitalize and diversify Iran’s economy, create jobs, address macroeconomic structural problems and promote regional and international relations – in other words integration of the reclusive Islamic Republic in a wider world.
Rouhani stated in one speech: “In the coming election, the main issue is whether we want to invite confrontation with the world and bring back the ominous shadow of war to our country, or whether we want to continue engaging in honorable interaction with the world.”
This iconoclastic view upset Khamenei’s strategy for controlling the presidential campaign and its outcome.
So long as all the candidates adhered to the “economic resistance” platform, the supreme leader could pick and choose the frontrunner. But by stepping out of line, a single candidate gained the power to turn the race into a personal showdown among the rivals, each pushing a platform designed for maximum voter appeal and opening the campaign up to a critique of the Islamic Revolution’s record to date.
Up until voting day, most Western intelligence analysts rated Rouhani’s chances as less than 50 percent and predicted a runoff vote on May 26. The president’s prospects of a win in the first round took a sudden dip Monday, May 15, when Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, withdrew his candidacy and called on his followers to swing their support behind the conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi.
“A victory for Mr. Raisi this Friday is vital for the preservation of the interests of the people, the revolution and the country,” Qalilbaf urged.
The mayor of Tehran quit the race for president under extreme pressure from the all-powerful clerical establishment and Revolutionary Guards. They were worried that his presence would split the hard-line anti-Rouhani vote and make a second run-off round more likely.
However, his step was counter-balanced by Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri’s withdrawal of his candidacy and endorsement of Rouhani.