Iran Elections: Divisions Deepen, Troubles Escalate

After the so-called moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani returned from his tour in Europe where he signed new economic deals with major corporates in Italy and France, the supreme leader Ali Khamenei was already thinking ahead to his next dilemma: the February 26th twin “elections.”

While many analysts view the “elections” in Iran as more of a “selection,” the ayatollah is seeing his control slipping out of his hands and rivals inching closer and closer to threatening his overall grip on power. As Iran may be boasting about returning to the global market after the recent nuclear deal, the ruling elite in Tehran are terrified of increasing divisions and major skyrocketing crises.

After endorsing +2,300 executions after taking office in August 2013, Rouhani is definitely no moderate. However, he is causing major problems for Khamenei from within, leading to the despot ordering the elimination of a large percentage of those running on the Rouhani-Rafsanjani ticket. Rafsanjani is another Khamenei rival who many believe is seeking the post the ayatollah currently occupies.

dissent in iran streets
Dissent in the streets of Iran.

Khamenei is looking to implement his own will by having more hardliners enter the 88-seat Assembly of Experts (a body charged with selecting a new supreme leader after the incumbent dies or steps down) and the 290-member parliament, both to be held this Friday.

To this end, the ultraconservative Guardian Council, comprised of 12 Khamenei loyalists who literally receive orders from Khamenei himself, sacked over 80% of all candidates seeking to enter the Assembly, and over 6,000 of the 12,000 registering for the parliament. Any individual viewed as even slightly “moderate” or “reformist” was disqualified. This included the grandson of Ruhollah Khomeini, the very founder of this regime, and a few dozen sitting MPs vetted in previous rounds of elections.

Khamenei is terrified of his position weakening. The nuclear pact sealed with the West was actually a severe blow to his camp, leaving many loyalists in disbelief and now hopeless.

The truth is Khamenei had nurtured his clandestine effort to obtain nuclear weapons for more than two decades. The main Iranian opposition, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, was the first to blow the whistle in 2002 and warn the international community of the huge scope of Iran’s top-secret and very dangerous nuclear ambitions.

Tehran fell short to surprise the world like Pyongyang did, and now Khamenei is paying the price.

The resulting heavy sanctions imposed by the West literally crippled Iran’s economy, already in ruins, and left Khamenei with no choice but to order Rouhani to seek negotiations as a last resort.

Despite the fact that lifting sanctions will lead to an estimated $100 billion windfall into Iran, Khamenei’s troubles are from over. Much of this money is already owed to China and many others who Iran has borrowed from when suffering from international sanctions. Iranians are already disappointed as there are no signs of economic conditions improving any time soon.

Oil prices taking a nose dive are adding insult to injury for Khamenei. Iran’s budget was set on oil selling at $112 to $130 a barrel. However, we are currently seeing prices hover around $30 a barrel, with experts even forecasting a drop to $20. This can only spell disaster for Tehran, and Khamenei, as it means an end to easy funds for exporting terrorism across the Middle East and abroad.

Iran is known to support deadly Shiite militias in Iraq, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, the Shiiite Houthis in Yemen, and last but not least, Bashar al-Assad butchering his own people in Syria.

Iran has also expanded its efforts to obtain missile technology, of course, in complete violation of United Nations sanctions.

Back home, the people across Iran are literally fed up, sick and tired of being viewed as a pariah state, witnessing cranes used for public hangings, their currency in a free fall despite sanctions relief, government handouts severely cut, the price of food skyrocketing, an unemployment tsunami and the black market spiraling out of control.

As the ruling mullahs are seen living in luxury, more than 90% of the people are in poverty, barely making ends meet. Anger is growing as Khamenei and his regime continue to resort to escalating crackdown, huge waves of arrests, rising executions, floggings and limb amputations. Why such harsh measures? What the regime fears most is popular protests spiraling out of control and sparking a new and unstoppable revolt.

iran vote regime change
Iranians vote for regime change.

The Iranian people have come to understand fully how Khamenei has lost face in his recent setbacks. While showing his teeth and attacking anyone perceived as a threat, Khamenei has literally found himself cornered in very difficult circumstances.

How he handles these new elections may render an unpredicted, yet unstoppable, reaction from an Iranian population seeking an end to this regime’s harsh repression, corruption, isolation and terrorism.

As divisions deepen and troubles escalate, rest assured even more cracks will endanger the very fabric and establishment controlled by Khamenei. 2016 will prove crucial and defining for Iran, and one major index is Friday’s election/selection.

Shahriar Kia

Shahriar Kia is a member of the Iranian opposition (PMOI /MEK). He is a human rights activist and political analyst on Iran and the Middle East.