Elections won't change much. Iran still belongs to Khamenei

"I don't see anything special happening in the future, no matter who becomes president," said Babak Kiani, an Iranian clothing salesman. "I may vote, but I know it doesn't change anything," he added.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Under the Iranian constitution, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on all state matters.

Iran will hold its thirteenth presidential election on May 19. There are five men running for the presidency — there were six. But the system allows none of them to carry out changes.

We spoke to Tallha Abdulrazaq, an Iraqi researcher at the ​University​ ​of​ ​Exeter's​ ​Strategy​ ​and​ ​Security​ ​Institute on why change is a mere dream for the Iranians.

Does the opposition have any hope?

“The opposition can have a chance as long as Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei gives the OK,” Abdulrazaq told TRT World.

“Khamenei does not want too much headache. He wants someone who thinks along the lines of him. So the opposition, if it's going to be reformist guys, they will never get through,” he said.

The vote has shaped up to be primarily a contest between incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and Ebrahim Raisi, who served in top positions in the judiciary for years. (AP)

The Green Movement is not a thing

After the Islamic Republic held its tenth presidential elections in 2009, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the officially declared victory of the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

According to the government’s claims, Ahmadinejad received 62.6 percent of the votes, while his main opponent, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi received 33.75 percent.

The protests eventually emerged as the defining moment of an uprising that supporters by now called the "Green Movement."  

Mass demonstrations and civil disobedience lasted until 2010, when the movement’s attempt to stage a rally in support of the emerging Arab uprisings in the region was suppressed.

As a result, the two main pro-reform parties were banned. Dozens of senior pro-reform politicians, journalists and activists were systematically arrested. They were subjected to kangaroo courts and jailed.

Demonstrators in Tehran and other large cities flooded streets shouting “Where is my vote?” (AP)

The Guardian Council trounces any notion of democracy

Iran’s electoral system filters out the candidates before they stand for office before the voters.

Hundreds registered to run for office in Iran’s presidential election on May 19. However, only six people got the approval from the country’s Guardian Council, a 12-member religious body which vets aspiring candidates in all elections.

The presidency is a buffer between the Ayatollah and the public

The Ayatollah holds ultimate authority in Iran. But the presidential vote will influence the image and policies of the country.

“Khamenei always uses the president of the republic as a kind of a buffer zone between him and the people,” said Abdulrazaq.

“Anything that goes right, Khamenei then can say 'I am the wise leader who put this guy in charge and he made the right policy decisions.' Anything that goes wrong, he can say ‘we should get rid of this guy. He is not good for the country, he is not good for you.’"

A politically moderate cleric who is seen as the best option for liberalising reformists, Rouhani has been on the offensive last week, framing the vote as a choice between greater social freedoms and repression. (AP)

The winner will be Rouhani – or someone like Rouhani

This election will show if the Iranians are happy with the outcome of the nuclear deal that President Hassan Rouhani’s government secured with the US and other parties in 2015.

As a result of this deal, Tehran rolled back its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of sanctions.

“Rouhani is the friendly face to the west. Although he is under the control of Khamenei, he is the fact that western media gotten used to,” said Abdulrazaq.

“He’s not so reclusive – he is not too isolationist in his policies. We can cut a deal with this guy. If you want it to continue, you are going to need someone like Rouhani.”

Moderate reformists Mostafa Hashemitaba and Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri are expected to defend Rouhani's achievements, while veteran hardliner Mostafa Mirsalim will back up Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. (AFP)

Eshaq Jahangiri is a placeholder candidate

Many believe that Eshaq Jahangiri, the current vice president, entered the race to help his boss.

“Jahangiri has his own support base. So he participated also to reduce the number of candidates for the Guardian Council. So the Guardian Council says ‘OK, he can run,’ because he does not pose a threat to national security. His religious credentials stand up,” Abdulrazaq said.

“In the debates and everything, his policies are almost exactly the same as Rouhani. What he will then do is, what happened in the French presidential elections recently when the candidates drop out they endorse another candidate. And the people who voted for them will instead shift their votes to Rouhani,” he continued.

“But in exchange, he’ll get something.”

And a change in foreign policy is also unlikely

Abdulrazaq said the election will have very minimal impact, especially on the region, no matter who is the winner.

“A lot of that is related to the revolutionary guard. The Quds force [an elite military unit], [its commander] Qasem Soleimani, and figures like this. These are major figures. Rouhani can't just say to them don't do this. Because Qasem Soleimani does not answer to the president. He only answers to Khamenei,” he said.

According to Abdulrazaq, Iran’s effort to establish its hegemony in the Middle East is not Rouhani’s approach, but is a state policy.

“If you look at the Iranian constitution as well, it says It is their duty to export it, not just export the revolution but also export the madhhab. The sect itself, the ideology,” he said.

“They have committed themselves strategically to Iraq more than anywhere else.Yemen as well. Syria more and more so, they have committed not only their advisers. You have Hezbollah, you have the Shiite militants coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, they gathered them all and they throw them at Syria. So they can fight the revolution there and crush it. They invested so much they can't just stop now. That would be humiliating."

Authors: Asena Bosnak, Zeynep Sahin