Iranâ€™s competing political forces are already preparing for next June’s presidential elections.Â Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, aÂ moderate,Â cannotÂ constitutionally run again as he wraps up his second term in office.
The conservative camp, largely affiliated with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is already in full control of the judiciary and parliament.Â While each side hasÂ long lists of candidatesÂ vying for presidency, the conservative camp seems to be particularly exerting itselfÂ to minimize the chances of its rivals.
Earlier in November, the hard-line parliament passed controversialÂ amendments toÂ Iran’s electoralÂ law,Â setting an age limit that effectively quashed the chances of young moderate Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi. Under the new law, candidates must beÂ above 40 years of ageÂ to run.
Jahromi, the only Iranian minister born after the Islamic Revolution, hadÂ beenÂ a promising candidate for the Moderate-Reformist camp. Defying stereotypes and depicting himself as aÂ championÂ against corruption, the 39-year-old ministerÂ has been actively engaged with the younger generationÂ through social media.
Although Jahromi has declared he has â€œno plansâ€ to run, Iranâ€™s media and political activists continue to see him as a candidate for the presidency. The minister has remained mute on the new age limitÂ and other amendments.
It was not clear if the age requirementÂ was specifically aimed at Jahromi, but conservative parliamentarian Malek Shariati, who voted for the legislation, hinted as muchÂ without naming him. He said that the parliament â€œshould not sacrifice the countryâ€™s interests for the sake of one or a few individuals who might be planning to run for president.â€
Still, some hard-linersÂ supportÂ their own young candidates. In aÂ Nov. 24 editorial, IRGC-affiliated newspaperÂ Javan criticized the Reformists for trying to repeat the past by bringing old political figures into the race. The paper called for a â€œcirculation of the elitesâ€ to allow for an innovative younger generation of officials to replace the aging managersÂ whose â€œold strategies could just thrust us back into the past.â€Â
The new law is also widely viewed asÂ further restricting peopleâ€™s role in the election processÂ while granting even more powerÂ to the Guardian Council, a 12-member supervising body effectively controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The hard-line council has been in charge of the vetting process of candidates in past elections, and hasÂ remained heedless of criticism over its merciless, partisan purge of rivals.
One contentious section of the new law is the inclusion of the IRGC intelligence organization in the vetting process. It will assist the Guardian Council with background checks,Â raisingÂ concerns that candidates with noÂ IRGC connections could be denied theÂ chance to run. Ahmad Naderi, a lawmaker representing Tehran, is one of the few who opposed the legislation as an attempt at â€œelection engineering.â€Â And in a critical editorial, pro-ReformÂ Etemad attacked parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and the parliament under his control of â€œtaking aim at the democratic essence of the Islamic Republic.â€
Reformists also fear a hard-linerÂ push for a presidentÂ rising directlyÂ from the IRGC, a military general heading the executive for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic. Numerous former commanders are reportedly eyeing the presidency, among themÂ Ghalibaf and Mohsen Rezaee. On Nov. 24, Hossein Dehghan, a former defense minister andÂ currentÂ military adviser to Khamenei, became the first candidate to officially announce his bid.
While hard-liners argue that a military commander could be the countryâ€™s salvation, critics contend that it could dealÂ a severe blow to Iran’s already fragile democracy.
â€œA president in uniform will only be a repeat of military [dictatorships] in Pakistan and Turkey and implies a scarcity of veteran political personalities in Iran,â€ said prominent and outspoken Reformist figure Ali Motahari, who also predicted that theÂ generals will find slimÂ backing amongÂ theÂ public.