Iran's clerical leaders cut presidency down to size

With 700 candidates – even Ahmadinejad’s preferred heir – barred, election is all but over

Even before a vote is cast, the Iranian presidential election on 14 June is effectively over as a process for choosing who holds power in Iran.

“I think it is not possible to run the country worse than this,” said the former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, right, after he became one of 700 candidates barred from standing in the election this week. He is  normally reticent in criticising the Iranian authorities.

There has frequently between tension between Iranian presidents and Iran’s supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the past. But by allowing only eight conservative candidates to stand in the forthcoming election, the aim is evidently to eliminate the presidency as a rival centre of power to the clerical leadership. The Guardian Council, the body that oversees nominations, had been expected to bar some candidates such as Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, former chief of staff and political ally of the current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the rejection of Mr Rafsanjani has come as a surprise.

The present Iranian leadership has decided that it could not afford a drawn-out domestic political struggle along the lines of the last presidential election in 2009. This provoked huge protest rallies and government repression after the losing candidates alleged that the outcome of the poll had been fraudulently decided.

Iran is under even greater pressure today because of its increasing involvement in the war in Syria and sanctions on the Iranian economy over its nuclear programme. The West fears Iran is developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran claims the programme is for peaceful purposes.

Tehran has decided that it must fight for its long-term ally, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, because the Iranian leadership sees attempted regime change in Syria as a precursor to a similar assault on Iran and its Shia allies in Lebanon and Iraq. Ayatollah Khamenei, who supported Mr Ahmadinejad in 2009, later quarrelled with him and now wants to ensure that any future president will have limited capacity for independent action.

Ever since the Iranian Revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, the presidency has been one of the centres of power in Iran, but is by no means the only one. Mohammad Khatami, who preceded Mr Ahmadinejad as president, was elected on a reformist agenda of which he was able to implement very little. Other important players in Iranian politics include the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which largely determines Iranian policy in Syria and Iraq.

Had a more flexible candidate, such as Mr Rafsanjani, supported by much of the middle class, been allowed to stand and had won the election, it was never inevitable that Iranian policy on Syria or the Iranian nuclear power programme would have changed. This is because in both cases Iran is not being offered much in return for concessions, as Western strategy is to inflict a public and damaging defeat on the Iranian government. Attempts at a detente with the West by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami were largely rebuffed and achieved little.

In Syria, Iran has taken a more active role in recent weeks in combination with the Shia paramilitary movement Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah fighters are taking part in the battle for Qusayr, a strategic town near Homs in Syria and close to the Lebanese border. Iran is reported to have some 200 Revolutionary Guard advisers in Syria and is sending arms and equipment via Iraq.

The struggle for Syria is financially and politically draining for Iran, but the Shia in the Middle East in general increasingly see the Syrian war as a battle for survival.

Economic sanctions imposed since the middle of 2010 have had a severe impact on Iranians, with Iranian oil exports at their lowest level since 1986. Oil revenues were $69bn (£46bn) last year compared to $95bn in 2011. Food prices have risen sharply, the Iranian rial is in free fall and unemployment is at least 17 per cent.

Serious though the economic damage inflicted by sanctions is, not all the news has been bad. Previously surging oil revenues had enabled the Iranian state to subsidise food and fuel prices. These subsidies have now been largely reduced or abolished, a reform that might not have happened without the pressure of sanctions. The currency had also been grossly overvalued in the past.

The rise in the price of fuel has reduced the once horrendous Tehran traffic jams while the fall in the value of the rial has made it much more expensive for Iranians to take foreign holidays. Domestic industry has benefited, but sanctions are constantly being tightened so oil revenues will continue to shrink.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'