The past six months have not been short of momentous elections. In 2016, Donald Trump surprised the world by snatching the White House from under Hillary Clinton’s nose. In France, Emmanuel Macron fought off the challenge of the far-right Marine le Pen to take his place in the Elysée Palace, while the UK goes to the polls in June to decide whether to elect Prime Minister Theresa May or her socialist challenger, Jeremy Corbyn.
All these elections share a common trait that is totally absent from the presidential election in Iran, where the first round of votes is counted on 19 May: choice. Their choice has in effect been made for them – and the clerical regime will win.
Whatever the result of the poll itself, whether the winner is incumbent Hassan Rouhani or Ebrahim Raisi, his hardline challenger, the Iranian people will have been robbed of a democratic vote. Business in Iran will continue as usual. The clerics and their supporters will keep Iran isolated, the people subjugated and the economy in tatters in order to maintain the status quo. Most importantly, this election will give the clerical revolutionary regime a veneer of democratic legitimacy that it does not deserve.
The realities of Iran’s election make for a depressing picture. Aside from the repression of political freedoms that happen every day in Iran, when it comes to the actual election the regime is in full control from the start. Strict criteria must be met by candidates for them to be allowed to run; effectively, this allows the Guardian Council (the body of clerics and jurists tasked with selecting eligible candidates) to exclude anyone who could challenge the regime. Last month 1600 candidates – including all 137 women – were disqualified so that six hand-picked contenders could contest the race.
Of these six men, two stand out as the real favourites. The first is Hassan Rouhani, the current president and cleric who has been part of the ruling establishment for several decades. During his presidency, Iran taken small steps back into the international fold, symbolised by the agreement of a nuclear deal in July 2015. However, despite the deal Iran’s economy has failed to flourish as predicted and its foreign policy – under the control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – remains as mischievous as ever. If ‘moderate’ Rouhani is elected, this will not change.
The other favourite is another cleric, Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi’s background is more worrying: a powerful conservative who is close to the hardline Republican Guard, Raisi is considered a front-runner to succeed the Supreme Leader and, with the backing of Iran’s deep state, is a genuine threat to Rouhani’s chances of re-election. He has spoken of his “religious and revolutionary responsibility” to run in the election, underscoring the two main sources of his support. A victory for Raisi would have dangerous repercussions across the region, with Tehran adopting a more assertive and aggressive stance towards its neighbours and the US.
Whatever the result, it is clear that the people of Iran are – knowingly or unknowingly – being duped into taking part in this charade of democracy.