In five weeks’ time, Iran will know the name of its next president.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that the frontrunner for the June 14 vote is Saeed Jalilee, senior nuclear negotiator and head of the National Security Council. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tapped him on the head after conducting an intense confabulation in his circle.
There is therefore a good chance that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s seat will be taken by a youngish (48) genial diplomat who is nonetheless a hard line conservative and a proven tough and crafty negotiator in nuclear talks with the 5+1 world powers (the five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany).
Jalilee’s campaign received a strong leg up Monday, May 13, from the powerful threesome known as the Coalition of the Three: Ex-foreign minister Ali-Akbar Velayati, former Majlis Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf.
They issued a statement saying they would wait to see how Jalili fares in popular opinion polls before making decisions. Since Haddad-Adel has also registered as a candidate, this statement was taken as an offer to stand down and transfer his support to Jalilee.
No Iranian flexibility expected after the vote
In the eyes of Khamenei, Jalilee has a number of admirable qualities as president: Above all, Iran’s nuclear program is the apple of his eye; he is pleasant, quiet, modest and well-mannered. But most importantly, he proved adept at outfoxing Western governments in round after round of negotiations by cunning ruses which bought Iran time for nuclear progress.
One such exercise was the rumor put about this week that Jalilee as president would be a lot more flexible in the bargaining over Iran’s nuclear program and offer major concessions for the lifting of international sanctions.
This rumor, say our Iranian sources, was a trick to throw sand in the eyes of Iran’s adversaries. No concessions are contemplated, and there are no grounds for President Barack Obama’s hopes that Tehran will be more accommodating after its presidential election.
To remove any doubts, a statement was issued Tuesday, May 14 by Ali Baqeri, a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team and deputy head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council under Jalilee. He explicitly advised world powers not to look for the smallest chink in the solid Iranian nuclear position in future dialogue.
Though well-suited to the job in most respects, Khamenei finds Jalilee wanting in a major qualification as president – his lack of administrative experience.
A well-seasoned, steady hand is badly needed at the head of government in Tehran as the Iranian economy staggers toward collapsing and popular frustration with widespread hardship nears boiling-point.
For that reason, the supreme leader is still considering the candidacy of Ali-Akbar Velyati, who served as minister in post-Revolutionary administrations and was his own valued adviser on international affairs in recent years.
Khamenei squashes Rafsanji’s attempted comeback
The final roster of 360 registered candidates running for election will be deeply scrutinized and heavily pruned by the Guardians of the Constitution Commission.
Khamenei is nervous about two men who have thrown their hats in the ring.
Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 78, lined up behind the reformists when they staged their big uprising in 2009 in protest against alleged vote-rigging in the vote for Ahmadinejad’s second term;
and Esfandyar Rahim Mashaee, Ahmadinejad’s relative and the candidate of his camp.
Rafsanjani told reporters he had won Khamenei’s blessing in a phone conversation they held. Staff members at the leader’s office denied this.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iran experts say that Rafsanjani has no hope of carrying the election. The Guardians may let him run – but only to help generate an atmosphere of genuine rivalry and boost voter turnout.
Khamenei will obstruct him at every turn for fear that as president, Rafsanjani may be amenable to a deal with the West for curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Anyway, the ayatollah will never forgive the former president for siding with the opposition in 2009.
His every bid for a comeback to politics has been treated roughly and the Rafsanjani name blackened. His daughter Fatemeh Hashemi was sent to prison on charges of political activity against the regime and the trial of his son Mehdi Hashemi for corruption is ongoing.
What will happen to Ahmadinejad after he quits?
But what most intrigues the movers and shakers in Tehran and the ordinary Iranian is what happens to Ahmadinejad after he is out of power and the fate of his would-be successor.
The outgoing president’s eight-year term taught Khamenei a lesson or two: In his early years as president, Ahmadinejad was the supreme leader’s faithful adherent and willing to accept his diktats. But in his second term, he emerged as a tiger, with sharp teeth bared for scandalous confrontations with his leader.
Khamenei’s followers fear Ahmadinejad is keeping a couple of outrageous tricks up his sleeve for boosting Rahim Mashaee’s prospects of election.
They are not waiting idly. One group is putting together a dossier to incriminate the outgoing president’s close aides on charges of stealing public funds. It would not be the first.
Accusations of financial wrongdoing were leveled in the past against Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi. He and another Ahmnadinehad aide, the highly popular Ali Akbar Janvan-Fekr, put their names down as presidential candidates – and then withdrew, so as not to spoil Rahim Mashaee’s chances.
No more than four or five candidates are expected to survive the deep culling of the slate by the Guardians of the Constitution.
The Revolutionary Guards will ensure the right results
Khamenei understands that the Guardians dare not overdo it.
For the sake of appearances, a couple of non-favorites must be allowed to stand, or else the heads of the Islamic Republic will be accused – again – of crudely manipulating the elections. Voters would then shun the ballot in droves. So Khamenei is in the middle of a delicate balancing act to show the world that the people are overwhelmingly behind his regime’s policies and nuclear program, while, at the same time, keeping the presidency out of undesirable hands.
He is not leaving much to chance: This week, Revolutionary Guards officers said they had established “Squads of Honest Men” to take a hand in the vote whenever and wherever it became necessary to guard the regime’s future.