Human Rights

Praise for “Moderate” Victory in Iran Elections Ignores Disqualified Reformers & Dissidents

Western media reports indicating that moderates won last week’s Iranian elections belie the fact that nearly 99 percent of all reformers were disqualified from running.

The Wall Street Journal pointed this out in an editorial (Google link) Monday:

At stake Friday were seats in the Majlis, or Parliament, and the Assembly of Experts, the body that will select Iran’s next Supreme Leader. Like all Iranian elections, the vote was a carefully stage-managed process. Iranians picked from among candidates prescreened for ideological orthodoxy by the unelected Guardian Council and various security agencies.

The Guardians disqualified 6,000, or nearly half, of the original candidates to the Majlis. Of the 801 candidates to the Assembly of Experts, only a quarter, or 161, made it to the ballot. Most of the disqualified candidates belonged to the reformist and moderate factions of the regime. Imagine U.S. midterm elections in which the White House was able to ban all Tea Party or even nonprogressive Democratic candidates from the ballot.

The Journal also noted that the terms “moderate” and “reformer” may not mean the same thing in Iran as they do in the West.

Consider Mostafa Kavakebian. The General Secretary of Iran’s Democratic Party, Mr. Kavakebian is projected to enter the Majlis as a member for Tehran. In a 2008 speech he said: “The people who currently reside in Israel aren’t humans, and this region is comprised of a group of soldiers and occupiers who openly wage war on the people.”

Another moderate is Kazem Jalali, who previously served as the spokesman for the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Majlis and is projected to have won a seat. In 2011 Mr. Jalali said his committee “demands the harshest punishment”—meaning the death penalty—for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two leaders of the pro-democracy Green Movement that was bloodily suppressed after stolen elections in 2009. Those two leaders are still under house arrest.

The mass disqualifications also meant that there were too few real reform candidates to run, so lists of reformers claimed non-reform candidates as their own. Saeed Ghasseminejad, a former Iranian dissident who is now an associate fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained:

In an analysis of the election published Monday in Bloomberg View, Eli Lake noted that some of those who were on the reformist list were actually opposed to the reformists.

These include Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani, who defended the Guardian Council’s vetting process against the reformists; as well as Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Taskhiri, who told reporters “I believe that the correct way is Principalist, and the way of others, like Reformists or moderates, is the incorrect way.”

Even when Iran’s reform movement was at its peak during the 1997-2005 presidential tenure of Mohammed Khatami, those who advocated for more openness in the government found their initiatives blocked by “unelected institutions” like the Guardian Council. When a new reform movement emerged before the 2009 elections, its leaders were arrested, and anti-regime protests in the wake of likely election fraud were brutally put down. But now, Lake wrote, “many of the hardliners that opposed the reformists in the late 1990s and in 2009 are running under [the reform] banner.”

Lake gave a specific example of how what passes for a reformer in Iran have changed in a column last week:

To understand the degree of Iran’s political stagnation, consider this bit of history. When Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was president of Iran in the 1990s, the journalist Akbar Ganji documented Rafsanjani’s role in the murder of dissidents and intellectuals. In 2013, Ganji — who is himself living in exile — endorsed Rafsanjani for the presidency, in part because the choices were already so narrowed by the unelected part of the Iranian state.

The New York Times’ Tehran correspondent, Thomas Erdbrink, called the results a “a landslide victory for reformist and moderate allies of President Hassan Rouhani” on Monday. But just last week, Erdbrink reported on a pre-election rally by reformists who acknowledged that “the forced absence of most of their political leaders illustrated how far they were from their goal of a new and modern Iran.”

[Photo: AFP news agency / YouTube ]