On June 14th Iran will be holding its 2013 presidential elections. Given the ever present tension between the United States and Iran, and the domestic conflict Iran experienced during it’s last presidential election (2009) this is an election that bears paying attention to.
The election is occuring at the end of president Ahmadinijad’s second term of office. Under the Iranian constitution Ahmadinijad is not permitted to seek a third term of office. With no sitting president to compete against numerous Iranians registered to compete in the coming June election.
With around 600 individuals having registered to run one might expect the Iranian people to have a range of choices in choosing their next executive.
However, this view point does not take into account the way the election process works in Iran, nor the lack of fairness and presence of corruption that is endemic in it.
Although almost anyone can register to run for the election very few actually do. This is the work of Iran’s Guardian Council which oversees the elections and vets candidates. According to Article 115 of the Iranian constitution the criterion with which the Guardian Council is to evaluate candidates is:
The President must be elected from among religious and political personalities possessing the following qualifications: Iranian origin; Iranian nationality; administrative capacity and resourcefulness; a good past-record; trustworthiness and piety; convinced belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official madhhab of the country. (English translation from iranonline.com)
Given the quite broad set of qualifications for candidates a great many of the 600 candidates should be qualified to run. Unfortunately Iran is not known for its electoral fairness, and the Guardian Council serves as a mechanism for limiting electoral competition.
It is well known that Iran’s elections are characterised by electoral malfeasance; even receiving a grade of 0% in a global electoral fairness audit done by democracychange.org. A primary example of corruption in Iran’s elections was seen in the 2009 presidential elections. According to Time, initial results of the election were released by the government a mere hour after the polls closed, and the official results (confirming the initial ones) came out the next day. (http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1904645_1904644_1904639,00.html)
Given that Iran lacks the types of electronic polling seen in advanced industrial states there is no way in which the election results could have been accurately counted.
It was such blatant electoral corruption that led to mass protesting against the 2009 election in Iran. In a report to Congress written by Casey L Addis:
the protest in Tehran alone comprised around 100,000 people with other protests occuring across the country. The Iranian Government’s response to this was severe. According to Addis’ report:
As of July 1, according to the Iranian government, 627 people have been arrested and 27 have died since June 13. Most observers believe that the actual numbers are much higher.
Addis continues, noting the violence with which the Revolutionary Guard put down the protest in Basij using tear gas and live ammunition on protesters.
(Addis Casey L, Iran’s 2009 Presidential Elections, 2009, Congressional Research Service.)
The question all of this raises is whether we can expect to see a repeat of the civil unrest that occurred in 2009. Early on this seemed quite possible with the registration of two opposition leaders. According to Reuters:
Both Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, the nationalist protégé of rabble-rousing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and Iran’s best known political grandee, are seen as a threat to the leader’s authority. (http://reuters.com/article/idUSBRE94B0CI20130512?irpc=932)
Had they been allowed to run, such popularly supported opposition leaders might have led to another mass protest when they inevitably lost to the Supreme Leader’s favored candidate. However, rather than risk allegations of electoral unfairness with blatantly false election results the Guardian Council has not allowed either man to run. According to the BBC:
The election authority has allowed eight people to stand in the ballot on 14 June. Five belong to the conservative camp, one is a centrist and the other is a reformist. The last one, an independent, is not being taken seriously. (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22654590)
Although the regime can expect some protest at excluding individuals with such popular support, it had likely greatly reduced the chance of social unrest. By limiting the field of competition to primarily conservatives the risk of the opposition receiving a popular mandate, which would necessitate obvious falsification of results, becomes much less likely. If the regime can be seen as not undermining the popular mandate they are less likely to face serious popular protest.
Just because the results may not be obviously false to the people does not mean that Iran will have a fair election. In fact there is next to no chance that Iran’s upcoming election will be free from electoral malfeasance. But as to whether the sort of mass protests seen in the last election will occur once again is less clear. Of course anything can happen, and it is quite possible that Iran will experience social upheaval once again, but it seems as though the Iranian regime is doing everything it can to prevent that, and may in fact have a good chance of succeeding.