top of page

Source: The Guardian

Jan 26, 2024

Iran bars Hassan Rouhani from seeking re-election to key body

Former president’s exclusion from group likely to choose next supreme leader angers reformists

By Patrick Wintour

The Iranian regime has taken its crackdown on any internal opposition into a new phase by disqualifying the reformist former president Hassan Rouhani from seeking re-election to the assembly of experts, the body that chooses the country’s supreme leader.

Reformists reacted angrily on Thursday to the regime-controlled guardian council’s announcement. The 88 assembly members serve an eight-year term, and since the incumbent supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is 84, it is highly likely that the next assembly will choose his successor.

The regime has often used disqualification on spurious technical grounds as a means of preventing regime opponents from standing for elections. Other past presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have also found themselves barred but it is a sign of the regime’s audacity that it has chosen to exclude someone so experienced and prominent as Rouhani.

Tara Sepehri Far, an associate fellow at the Chatham House thinktank, said: “The system wants to be very clear that they want to be in control and are not interested in sharing power with anyone. It used to be understood elections in Iran were not free and fair but contested, but over the past 20 years there has been a persistent attempt to disempower the electorate, making it harder to argue any good comes from electoral politics.”

Iran’s former vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri said of Rouhani’s disqualification: “People ask what is the mechanism that in every election many personalities and high-ranking officials, such as presidents etc, are disqualified or excluded? What are the reasons for disqualifying a large number of candidates for the parliamentary elections, ignoring the conditions for holding passionate and competitive elections?”

He asked: “How can someone be disqualified who has been the secretary and chairman of the supreme national security council for many years and has been present for several terms in the assembly of leadership experts and the Islamic Council, and who received 24m votes from the people six years ago”.

Jahangiri said Iran was facing “complex and difficult economic, social and political issues and the regional and international situation is risky”. Administering a blow to the hope of the people and shrinking the circle of the system would intensify the threats, he said.

Rouhani, who was president for two terms from 2013 to 2021, has three days to appeal against the decision, as do the other disqualified candidates. He said he disagreed with the decision, vowed that nothing would weaken his will to defend the nation, and demanded an explanation.

Rouhani said he had been disqualified along with thousands of other parliamentary candidates. Previously he said “a way must be found to make the ‘protest vote’ the voice of the Iranian people”, without elaborating.

Outlets linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards highlighted protests, a crashed economy, the collapse of the nuclear deal and Israeli assassinations as Rouhani’s chief legacy.

The guardian council is a creature of Khamenei’s. It comprises six clerics appointed by him and six jurists approved by MPs from a list provided by the judiciary chief, who himself is an appointee of the supreme leader.

One of the media reasons cited for Rouhani’s disqualification – a failure to build mosques – was ridiculed as absurd by Hossein Ansari Rad, a former reformist MP and cleric. No official explanation has been given.

Other reformists said the government was storing up trouble before another wave of protests that would come after the “women, life freedom” movement that rocked the regime from September 2020.

This week the regime executed two people involved in those earlier protests. Their deaths prompted 61 female political prisoners in Evin jail to launch a hunger strike on Thursday.

Rouhani’s casting aside is also a sign that the regime is not interested in improving relations with the west and remains committed to developing strategic relations with Turkey, Russia and China.

Alex Vatanka, the head of the Iran programme at the Middle East Institute, said Rouhani’s removal showed that Khamenei was not interested in compromise.

“It is ‘my way or the highway’,” he said of Khamenei’s approach. “The men who decide – the [Revolutionary Guards] and the office of the supreme leader – know nothing else … They believe in the language of force and, frankly, force is what works for them. The supreme leader crushes his opponents. It is the approach he believes he can pull off in the region.”

Vatanka argued that Iranian power in the region was more flimsy than it looked and that the regime had bitten off more than it could chew, for instance by attacking terrorist groups inside Pakistan.

bottom of page