Iranians went to the polls Friday to engage in what could be one of the most important elections in the Islamic Republic’s history, but some experts and observers argue the results have already been determined in advance.
Iranians cast ballots for both the Iranian parliament (Majlis) and the Assembly of Experts, the small group responsible for choosing the next Supreme Leader — Iran’s top political official who serves for life. Though millions of Iranians are expected to participate in the election, the candidates they can choose are vetted ahead of time.
“Like the parliamentary election … [the Assembly of Experts] results are largely foreordained, as the only candidates allowed to run are those deemed to pose no challenge to the ruling hardline establishment,” wrote Saeed Ghasseminejad, a fellow at the Foundation For Defense of Democracies who specializes in Iranian politics, in a Friday article.
Ghasseminejad’s doubt comes from the fact that the Guardian Council, a group of 12 clerics hand-picked by the ruling Supreme Leader, has culled 80 percent of eligible candidates from the Assembly of Experts race in order to ensure only a fellow hardliner will take over as Supreme Leader when Ali Khomeini dies.
In similar fashion, the Guardian Council disqualified half of the candidates running in the Majlis races, most of them believed to be reformers. Ghasseminejad noted that only 161 candidates will run for the 88 seats on the Assembly of Experts, meaning some seats are already spoken for.
The election for the Assembly of Experts will be the key election to watch, as Supreme Leader Khomeini’s health has been faltering lately. It is highly likely that the next Assembly of Experts could elect the future Supreme Leader within their eight year tenure.
In lieu of reformers, the more likely result of the elections will prove to sway in the favor of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the paramilitary organization charged with defending the Islamic Revolution that acts as a counterweight to Iran’s traditional military. The IRGC has deployed its personnel to observe the elections and arrest what they call “counter-revolutionaries,” according to Iran’s Fars News Agency.
In practice, the IRGC acts much more than just the Supreme Leader’s personal militia, it also controls a significant portion of the Iranian economy from mining enterprises to financial institutions. It is believed the organization owns as much as $12 billion worth of assets in Iran, a sixth of the entire economy.
Suzanne Maloney, Deputy Director of Foreign Policy for the Brookings Institution, testified to Congress in September that a significant portion of the money Iran gains from the nuclear deal finalized in July will go to the IRGC, despite President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to invest in growth initiatives.
“Most of the approved contenders are radical revolutionaries – devotees of the supreme leader with close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” wrote Ghasseminejad. “It is mathematically impossible for the less-hardline factions to win at the ballot box.”
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