No news from Iran – Conference after the presidential elections in Iran 2013
This is the speech of Mrs L. Boons, IOPHRI, at the conference:
Last week Iran held presidential election.
Iran has a bad reputation when it comes to manipulation of the ballot. Last Friday however it seems that there was no voter fraud; nevertheless, elections in Iran are neither free nor fair and denying the people transparent elections is one of the many human rights violations in Iran.
Why are elections not free or fair in Iran?
One of the reasons is the vetting of candidates by the Guardian Council
Everybody in Iran can register as a presidential candidate but it is the Guardian council that is responsible to approve or reject the candidates.
This council is composed of 12 members of which 6 are selected by the supreme leader and the other 6 are elected by the Iranian Parliament from among Muslim jurists that are nominated by the head of the Judicial Power. And to make the circle round, the head of the judicial power is appointed by the Supreme Leader.
Needless to say that this council is free to choose those who are most loyal to the supreme leader.
This year there were 686 candidates to run for president but only 8 were approved. All 8 were men.
The Iranian constitution views everything equally for men and women, and women account for a majority of the population. But Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi made it very clear that the "law does not approve" of a woman in the presidency and a woman on the ballot is "not allowed." And consequently the 30 registered women were all disqualified.
Ahmad Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur for Iran, and other UN experts condemned the disqualification and expressed concerns about the transparency and fairness of the election and stated that barring women from presidential office is a serious rights violation.
This adds to the list of the many discriminations that women face in the Iranian society.
The role and the control of the revolutionary Guards on the elections and its ties with many companies and charitable foundations is another disturbing factor.
In public statements, the Guards commanders had made it clear that they will only accept a winner who is deeply loyal to Khamenei and committed to public order. Already in January, Ali Saeedi, the supreme leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, made headlines by claiming it was the duty of the guards to "engineer reasonable and logical elections". In previous elections and especially in 2009 the tools to “engineer reasonable and logical elections” were voter fraud, intimidation, censorship, repression, and arrests.
Also ahead of the June election, many Iranian journalists and bloggers have been arrested and stay behind bars. Social media were blocked and internet speed was reduced.
According to Reporters without Borders, 54 journalists and netizens were detained in Iran in connection with the provision of news and information at the moment of the elections.
In May, the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance gave directions to strengthen the supervision on the entry of foreign journalists into Iran and the restrictions on foreign media were increased in order to discourage them from coming.
Many foreign journalists didn’t get a visa.
Those who were granted a visa were all housed in the same hotel, where they had an Internet connection that was subject to close surveillance, like the rest of the Iranian Internet.
Also according to Reporters w/o Borders, they were prevented from moving in the capital freely. They were banned from covering the meetings of candidates supported by reformers, and from contacting government opponents or the families of political prisoners.
A foreign media reporter who spoke to Reporters Without Borders on condition of anonymity said: “Each time you go out, you need permission from the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance. You have to tell them who you want to see, when and where. And on top, you are watched by the government-imposed interpreters.”
That people were looking for change and reform was reflected on the day of the election.
The voter turnout was high: 72.2%
The reformist candidate Hassan Rowhani needed only one round to become Iran’s next president. He won with nearly 51 percent of the more than 36 million votes cast.
With the high voter turnout many say that the true winner is Khamenei who urged the people to vote.
It was a complete surprise, that Hassan Rowhani who was criticized about his remarks and statements during his election campaign and threatened by the military to be legally confronted after the election, was allowed to win. The Guardian council was reportedly even considering his disqualification for not following the advice of the supreme leader a few days before the election.
Who is Hassan Rowhani?
Rowhani was the only cleric of the presidential candidates. He started religious studies as a teenager. He soon established himself as an outspoken opponent of the Western-backed shah.
He then joined up with Khomeini and the rest of his inner circle, including Rafsanjani. Khomeini was in that time in self-exile in France,
Since the Islamic revolution, Rowhani is a prominent figure in the narrow elite that has dominated Iran’s politics during the last 3 decades.
During the Iran-Iraq war, he held many executive posts in the military.
He was a member of the Iranian Parliament for a period of 20 years (from 1980 to 2000)
During 16 years, he was the representative of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei in the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).
During this period, he was the national security advisor – to President Hashemi as well as President Khatami and headed the nuclear team during the negotiations with the Int’l Atom Energy Agency from 2003 till 2005.
His role in the nuclear negotiations brought him the nickname "diplomat Sheikh". He seems to be a consensus builder.
In 2005, following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, Rowhani resigned his post as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.
Since 1991, Rowhani is a member to the Expediency Council and has kept that post up to the present time.
He is also a member of the Assembly of Experts and he has been running the Centre for Strategic Research since 1992.
During his election campaign, Rowhani presented himself as a moderate and vowed to restore the economy, to reconcile with the world and to improve the political and human rights situation for the people if elected.
He outstretched his hand to all the people in Iran and promised to issue a “civil rights charter" bringing equality for all citizens irrespective of race, religion or sex. He accepted that women had been repressed throughout history, and said equal opportunities for women and men should be created. The charter would also call for greater freedom for political parties and minorities, as well as ensuring the right to fair trial, freedom of assembly and legal protection for all.
And in his victory speech he stated: "a new opportunity has been created for those who truly respect democracy, interaction and free dialogue" and said that he would "follow the path of moderation and justice, not extremism."
All these statements are base for optimism.
However there are elements for caution.
As already mentioned, Rowhani is a prominent figure in the narrow elite that has dominated Iran’s politics and is part of a system of ruling clerics that violated the human rights of Iran’s people for more than 30 years.
Although Iran has another president, the position of the supreme leader who has the final say in all policy matters has not changed. With other words, the power remains with Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard.
The news of Rowhani’s election to president was internally and internationally well received and even the Revolutionary Guards announced to give complete cooperation to the new president.
Why did Khamenei suddenly listen to the wish of the majority who want change in Iran and allowed Rowhani to win?
There are a lot of speculations.
Some argue that it is a face-saving for the Leader to agree to a deal with the West, over the nuclear issue.
Others are more pessimistic and think he wants to win time to reach nuclear capability or weapons or fool the Iranians into hoping and to divert them from the economic problems.
Internal and international pressures are high and maybe Khamenei did see the necessity to gain the trust of the Iranians to save the battered regime and to avoid protests and unrest.
The New York Times gave a hopeful point of view and stated: “Khamenei needed public trust and electoral participation to justify major forthcoming changes, which may include replacing the chief nuclear negotiator, as well as releasing two reformist leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have been under house arrest for two years. High voter turnout and popular support for Rowhani have helped Khamenei in this regard.”
Time will prove whether the inspired hope will come true or will only appear to be an illusion.
In the weeks and months to come, we will see how the situation is going to evolve, whether the new president abides by his promises to bring reform and how far this reform will go.
With the power remaining with the supreme leader it will all depend on him how much margin Rowhani will get.
A lot of truth could be in what Ian Black and Saeed Kamali Dehghan write in the Guardian:
“Rouhani is a pretty tough character, and moderate is a relative term in the Iranian political system. If he tries to reform he may find out, like Gorbachev did, that an authoritarian system is not reformable because it risks unleashing forces that may eventually bring it down. I sense that Khamenei knows that and will try to limit reforms. It will depend on how much repressed energy has built up and whether half measures will be too little too late."