By Struan Stevenson—
April 5 (UPI) — Presidential elections are due to be held in Iran on June 18. It will be the 13th presidential election, unlucky for some, but particularly for the Iranian people, who want rid of the theocratic regime that has wrecked their country for the past 42 years.
The elections will, as usual, be a sham. Although dozens of potential candidates have registered for the contest, a select few will be hand-picked by the Guardian Council, a group of hard-line mullahs appointed by and fiercely loyal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.
Only candidates who accept the velayat-e faqih (absolute rule of the clergy) system of repression, cruelty, injustice, torture, corruption and terror, all carried out in the name of a grotesque version of Islam, will be considered.
The current president, Hassan Rouhani, will complete his second four-year term in office in June. Speciously considered as a “moderate” by the West, Rouhani has nevertheless presided over 4,300 executions since he took office in 2013, with the overall number believed to be much higher because of the fact that most take place in secret, without witnesses. Iran is the world leader in executions per-capita, as well as executions of women and juvenile offenders.
If Rouhani were considered a moderate, then two of the main contenders for his job will offset that fallacy. They are former Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan and the current parliamentary speaker, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
Dehghan was a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the regime’s feared Gestapo-equivalent. He has advised Khamenei on military matters, encompassing the regime’s aggressive expansionism across the Middle East, with its involvement in vicious proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
Qalibaf is also a former IRGC brigadier general and was police chief and mayor of Tehran. As Tehran’s mayor, he was mired in a major corruption scandal, involving stealing, looting, plundering and even offering properties of Tehran’s municipality to the regime’s apparatchiks at huge discounts. According to the regime’s state-controlled media, during his 12-year tenure as mayor, he stole and embezzled billions of dollars. Qalibaf has had three unsuccessful attempts at winning the presidency, and there is speculation that he may withdraw at the last minute and throw his weight behind his longtime comrade Ebrahim Raisi.
Raisi is Iran’s justice minister, which probably explains why his friend Qalibaf has remained out of jail. Raisi certainly fills the justice role, having been one of the key executioners during the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, in a crime against humanity being investigated by the United Nations. He has openly boasted of his role in these killings.
Khamenei has made it known that he wants a “young Hezbollah government,” and Raisi meets that criteria. At 61, he is considered “young” by the 82-year-old Khamenei. As a cleric, Raisi wears the black turban, indicating that he is considered to be descended from the prophet Muhammad. He has been touted as a possible successor to Khamenei, which may explain the theories behind his friend Qalibaf’s electoral tactics. Clearly Qalibaf sees himself as “kingmaker.” Raisi has been sanctioned by the West for his countless crimes, a fact which will have elevated him in the eyes of the supreme leader.
In his Nowruz (New Year) speech on March 21, Khamenei gave a rare insight into the fears that have engulfed his oppressive dictatorship. Facing growing unrest from the Iranian public who have watched the mullahs shatter the economy and mishandle the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed an estimated 240,000 people, Khamenei acknowledged that the majority of the population no longer trust his government and will not take part in the presidential election. Khamenei claimed this was not the fault of the Iranian regime, but was entirely due to propaganda from the West.
He knows that his regime is at its weakest point since it came to power in the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah. Nationwide uprisings that have erupted repeatedly have been met with brutal force. In late 2019, 1,500 unarmed protesters were shot dead. In recent weeks, impoverished fuel porters in Sistan Baluchistan province who joined a demonstration, were machine-gunned by the IRGC.
There is palpable rage against the regime in every town and city of Iran, and courageous resistance units of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) have multiplied. The tiniest spark could ignite the next revolution, and Khamenei knows that he must surround himself with a hard core of homicidal gangsters, if he has any chance of clinging onto power.
Although the role of president is effectively the country’s highest directly elected post, it is in fact entirely subservient to the supreme leader. Khamenei, who is unelected, controls the armed forces, the judiciary system, state television and other key governmental organizations. Even key Cabinet posts, such as the foreign minister and the intelligence minister, must answer directly to Khamenei, rather than the elected president.
Khamenei controls the IRGC, which runs 80% of the Iranian economy, corruptly funneling money stolen from the people into private banks and using the rest to finance its proxy wars and burgeoning nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The IRGC pays no tax, nor does Khamenei, who controls a financial empire worth an estimated $200 billion, resources that could readily be made available to alleviate the suffering of the Iranian people.
The mullahs have stolen the people’s wealth for the past 42 years, corruptly lining their own pockets, financing terror and turning Iran into an international pariah, its religious fascist regime condemned for sickening human rights abuse. Nearly 35 million people have been driven to the outskirts of Iran’s cities due to poverty and their inability to pay for housing. Workers have not received their pay for months. The poverty is such that many families have removed meat and fruit from their shopping baskets and even have to pay for bread in installments.
Today, as Iran nears its 13th presidential election, thousands of Iranians are searching through trash cans to look for food. Many have been forced to sell their kidneys and corneas to raise cash to feed their families. There have even been cases of families selling their children. For a once proud and rich nation that longed for freedom and justice after the overthrow of the shah, the past four decades have been catastrophic.
The sham elections in June may mark a final turning point. The 13th president of Iran is likely to be the last one.
Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.