Yelena Dunayeva: "Iran's pre-election race will be rough"
Iran's Guardian Council of the Constitution has approved the final list of candidates for presidential elections, which will be held on May 19. Senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, candidate of historical sciences, Yelena Dunaeva, discussed what forces candidates represent and how tense will pre-election race in Iran be in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- What can you say about the current balance of power in the presidential election campaign?
- Right now we know all figures who can participate in the political fight till the voting day. It's also important that there are two clear camps. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters, namely his deputy and five ministers, were allowed to participate in the pre-election race, there would be a third force, conservative-adventurous, but it didn't happen. So currently there are moderately liberal forces, represented by Hassan Rouhani, Eshaq Jahangiri and Mostafa Hashemitaba, as well as opposing conservative forces - Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Ebrahim Raisi and Mostafa Mir-Salim.
- Which candidates have the biggest support of the population?
- The main candidates are Rouhani, Ghalibaf and Raisi. Hashemitaba, a representative of pro-reformist circles, is not that important. Mir-Salim, a conservative traditionalist, also doesn't enjoy wide popularity. Jahangiri is unlikely to reach the election day, since he originally was Rouhani's cover candidate: JCPOAThere were concerns that the Supervisory Council may disqualify the incumbent president for achieving the JCPOA, since many people believe that it doesn't meet Iran's national interests.
Jahangiri himself said that he just wants to support Rouhani. Next three weeks of Iran's pre-election race will be rough, since there will be a lot of criticism and disinformation in the media. There will be political debates on television a week before the elections, following which the population will make the final decision. Since there are a lot of candidates from opposition camp, the camp of liberal pro-reform forces decided to nominate even more candidates in order to adequately support the government's position and the current president. So Jahangiri will probably withdraw his candidacy after the end of debates.
The same happened at 2013 elections, when Reza Aref was reformers' second candidate. He withdrew his candidacy in favor of Rouhani five days before the elections. It can be done officially. Such candidate tells his supporters to vote for the main candidate, and Rouhani is currently considered the main candidate of reformers.
- Who will be conservatives' main candidate?
- Ghalibaf and Raisi are Rouhani's main opponents. It's unlikely that both will reach the elections, although overall, there's a possibility, since it will give them the opportunity to take more votes away from Rouhani. This way, the elections may reach the second round. At least it's more likely to happen compared to 2013. Radical conservative forces are supporting Raisi. He has no political or managing experience in terms of work in the executive branch of government, he worked only in the judicial authorities. People don't really know him. According to recent polls, almost 60% of the population doesn't know him, especially younger generations. Generations of the first and second decade of the Islamic revolution, on the contrary, remember him well. They even call him "bloody Ayatollah": in 1987-1988, he headed judicial commissions, which sentenced a huge number of political prisoners (representetives of the left camp and national bourgeoisie) to execution. After that, he worked in the courts. He was appointed head of the Imam Reza Mausoleum just a year ago.
Nevertheless, Raisi has support from clergy. He is being promoted through religious channels. Mosques promote Raisi as a person Iran needs in the difficult time, as a person who can increase pressure on Trump. They say that Iran's president must change after Trump became US president. Rouhani personifies a soft, moderate line, aimed at finding channels for cooperation with all states, including the West. He partly managed to achieve this. But now, according to them, Rouhani isn't fit for president, because political conditions have changed. America is threatening to withdraw from the JCPOA, tries to force Iran to abandon its foreign policy in the Middle East through Israel and the Persian Gulf states, tries to make it abandon its domestic programs for the development of ballistic missiles, abandond researches in the field of peaceful atom, conducted under the IAEA supervision.
Ghalibaf also represents conservative camp. Certain groups of the population are behind him - both among the youth and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: he served in the IRGC air forces. Although part of the IRGC, which is also dissatisfied with Hassan Rouhani's international policy, supports Raisi. Overall, Iranian political elite is divided into numerous groups. The IRGC has pro-liberal, pro-reform forces, as well as forces in the clergy. I can't say that all of Iran's clergy is conservative or radical: All these small social stratas are internally and politically divided - from left to extreme right. Raisi and Ghalibaf represent various conservative factions. Ghalibaf is a representative of a more modernized conservative spectrum, which accepts the norms of capitalism in terms of economics, modern methods of managing the economy. Raisi is more conservative, more radical. He relies on traditional societies, underdeveloped in terms of modernization. But Ghalibaf had several difficult moments in his political career. In the 1990s, under President Khatami, he commanded police in Tehran and suppressed the rallies of students, who fought for greater liberalization of political life. In addition, he was blamed for a fire at one of the high-rise buildings in Tehran: Everyone knew that mayor's office didn't pay enough attention to the maintenance of these buildings. There were several major corruption scandals in Tehran's mayor's office, related to the sale of land, which was supposed to remain in the city's property. Huge sums were spent on the weddings of Ghalibaf's children. At the latest elections, Ghalibaf was Rouhani's main rival and gained only 20%, while Rouhani - 52%.
- Will something change for conservatives?
- I think Raisi may leave at the elections' last stage. Raisi's situation is also complex because he's called a figure that can replace the Spiritual Leader, although there are about five or six names in this list. If Raisi won't get absolute majority at the presidential elections, it means he can't become the supreme leader. However, he won't get absolute majority unless he receives special support. Many political analysts in Iran believe that something strange happens: either establishment wants Raisi to fail, to get him off successors' list, or it wants to promote him, show him to the people, so that he can tell people to support Ghalibaf on the last day.
- So there will be a serious fight?
- Of course, and very unpredictable. Even Hashemitaba and Mir-Salim are not serious candidates at the moment, but they can improve their positions during political debates, and then, for example, Ghalibaf and Raisi may give their votes to Mir-Salim. He may act as representative of the entire conservative camp. Then he can get a decent number of votes. We'll see a real picture only a day or two before the elections. Let me remind you, a week before 2013 elections, according to polls, Rouhani had just 14%.
- Why Ahmadinejad can't participate in the elections?
- In the fall of 2016, Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to the Spiritual Leader, assuring that he won't run for president, but then he began to travel around the country, give speeches and conduct a clear propaganda campaign. This alarmed political circles. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei didn't like Ahmadinejad since 2011, when there was a huge conflict between them, despite the fact that Ahmadinejad remained in power for a year and a half after this. Last fall the Spiritual Leader openly told Ahmadinejad that he doesn't recommend him "to enter the political scene". It was done to prevent an even stronger division of society. After all, Ahmadinejad has no place in either camp. They accuse his movement of moving away from honoring the Spiritual leader. But Ahmadinejad is supported by lower strata, up to 30-35%. It's impossible to completely ignore him. It's possible that under a new leader, he will be able to participate at the next elections.