Iran’s Khamenei Backs Hardline Election Field After Backlash

The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves after speaking to a group of laborers in Tehran, Iran on April 26, 2006. (Source: Bloomberg News)

Iran’s Khamenei Backs Hardline Election Field After Backlash

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backed a decision to limit June’s presidential election to a field of mostly hardline candidates, brushing aside warnings that a lack of real choice could undermine the legitimacy of the vote at a sensitive time for nuclear negotiations.

Earlier this week, the Guardian Council, a top constitutional body that is appointed by Khamenei and vets elections, disqualified dozens of established politicians and current officials in the Rouhani administration from standing in the June 18 poll. It finalized a list of seven, mainly hardline, conservative candidates.

The shortlist has drawn heavy criticism from across Iran’s highly-polarized political spectrum with both reformists and conservatives expressing concern that it could dampen turnout and hurt legitimacy at a time of widespread discontent over the economy, harsh crackdowns on dissent and the handling of the coronavirus.

“The honorable Guardian Council, in accordance with its obligations, did what it had to do and and saw as necessary, it identified the candidates,” Khamenei told parliament in a statement on Thursday, in a clear signal that he doesn’t intend to intervene.

“Take part in the elections, these elections are yours and see them as your own and use God’s help to guide you toward what is right and the person who deserves it, and go to the polls and vote,” he said, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Hardline Front-Runner

The line-up leaves close Khamenei ally and current judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, as the leading candidate. An ultra-conservative cleric who is liked by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Raisi is widely seen as the supreme leader’s preferred successor yet has little popularity among Iran’s urban, educated middle class.

The election comes as world powers and the administration of moderate President Hassan Rouhani hammer out an agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear accord abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump. While Raisi has been hostile to the accord, he’s unlikely to scuttle talks in Vienna while they have Khamenei’s backing, though he may try to influence his position on the agreement and wider foreign policy.

The vote is expected to draw one of the lowest turnouts on record. On Tuesday, the semi-official Fars news agency, which is closely aligned to hardline factions, said the latest polling data indicated a 53% turnout next month, with 72.5% of those who plan to participate voting for Raisi.

“As a member of the council, I’ve never found a decision by the Guardian Council to be so indefensible until now,” Sadegh Amoli Larijani, an influential senior cleric, Guardian Council member and the former head of Iran’s judiciary, tweeted on Tuesday.

More than 580 people were disqualified from the presidential race by the Guardian Council, including Larijani’s brother, Ali. The former parliament speaker who was seen as the most credible rival to Raisi, is an influential conservative politician who is close to Rouhani and supports the nuclear deal.

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