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What You Need to Know About Iran’s Farcical Elections

You’ve got questions, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s got answers

Adam Chandler
June 14, 2013
Candidate Hassan Rowhani.(AFP)
Candidate Hassan Rowhani.(AFP)

Ladies and gentleman, today’s the big day! After eight long years of fretting over the words and deeds of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was never really in charge of Iran anyway, it’s time for Iranians to “go to the polls” and elect another pretend leader in the country’s quadrennial democracy sham. Hooray!

Who can run: Iranians who aren’t too old, too Jewish, too female, or too anti-establishment. In lieu of gathering signatures for a petition, Iran makes it easy for both a candidate and a populace by cutting through all the thinking and electoral guesswork of Western democracies.

How to become a candidate: Just be approved by the 12-member Guardian Council, made up of six Islam experts and six jurists.

Who elects members of the Guardian Council? No one, silly! Like all presidential candidates, all Guardian Council members are screened by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

What if you are a popular candidate with years of experience? The Islamic Republic of Iran would probably thank you for interest. There were nearly 700 candidates this year (including 30 women), which the Guardian Council whittled down to eight. Among the many popular, disqualified candidates were former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was deemed too critical of Iran’s response to the 2009 protests that plagued the last election old, and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a close friend of and former chief-of-staff for Ahmadinejad, who fell out of favor with the political elite.

But that doesn’t make any… SILENCE.

What does Iran look for in a candidate: Unflinching loyalty for starters! Do you love Iran and Ayatollah Khamenei? I mean, really really love them both? Do you hate the West? You’re off to a good start.

What else? Variety also helps. Take Ali Akbar Velayati, for example. He’s conservative, he’s very close with Khamenei, he studied infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University, and he has an international warrant out for his alleged role in the AMIA bombing! Who better to lead a corrupt theocracy than someone who knows all the technical names of maladies and can use them as invective to hurl at Iran’s opponents?

How will this election be different from the last? Uh, no liberal candidates this time. In 2009, Mir Hossein Mousavi’s reform-minded candidacy raised some serious issues for Iran’s leadership. After Mousavi “lost,” there were some serious protests, you might remember.

Who’s going to win? The people of Iran, obviously! I kid, I kid. They’re in trouble.

One candidate who has gained some traction is Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator, whom some people are calling a moderate with an openness toward improving relations with the West.

The former presidents Mohammad Khatami, seen as the leader of Iran’s reformist movement, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani publicly endorsed Rouhani on Tuesday.

If the conservative candidates split the vote and Rowhani wins (or is allowed to win), maybe we’ll see Iran take a different approach to things, you know, assuming Khamenei allows it.

Other frontrunners are Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, the hardline mayor of Tehran, and Saeed Jalili, whose longtime support as the proclaimed frontrunner may have just been a Potemkin Village.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.