The Political Future of Zarif and the Elections in the Light of Khamenei's Statements
The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei touched on the issues such as Ali's martyrdom, teachers' day, and the issues about workers in public on Iranian national television on May 2. Afterward, he gave vague messages, without specifying names, about the most curious subjects; Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's leaked audio recording, the upcoming presidential elections, and those who announced their candidacy nominations. Considering the recent developments in the last week, Khamenei's statements made clear the cornerstones of the presidential elections.
In his leaked audio recording, Zarif pointed out some incompatibilities between diplomacy and the field and stated that the field captured the country's diplomacy. Zarif was not limited to these; he mentioned that Qasem Soleimani, who became a national hero, collaborated with the Russians and how Russia used Iran as its ground forces in Syria. Furthermore, Zarif clearly stated that in the process of the Nuclear Deal, Russia is trying to sabotage the negotiations to prevent Iran from approaching the West and not getting out of its control. Apart from these, while he was sharing his thoughts on the developments in the US and the region, he also underlined how much the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been pacified. By this time, many people have made evaluations on this issue, and the authorities have denied all these allegations. However, this is the first time that a stateman has approved the allegations.
The fact that the recording in question, which was leaked during the discussion of Zarif's joint candidacy of reformists, means political suicide for Zarif. Although some commentators, with an overly optimistic approach, claim that this is an election investment for Zarif, it can be said that this point of view is an unfounded approach and that underestimated the fact that Zarif crossed the red lines of the establishment. As a matter of fact, Khamenei criticized the minister with harsh statements towards the end of his speech. Khamenei accused the minister of putting into words the statements and claims of the enemy (The US) within the country by using the same logic. In addition, he stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is only the executor of the policies determined by the higher authorities in Iran, as in all parts of the world, and underlined that the ministry is not authorized to determine the foreign policy of the country.
Khamenei, who also made clear that the field's dominance of diplomacy, said that the Quds Force affiliated to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) took a proactive role in West Asia (Middle East) and prevented passive diplomacy, and reminded that this was done within the authority and knowledge of the higher authorities (himself). Khamenei both implied that the government is in favor of approaching the West and underlined that the West is also eager to take Iran under control. Following Khamenei's statements, Abbas Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson of the Guardian Council, shared a message on his Twitter account. He underlined that the criteria in the words of the Supreme Leader are a guide for them while examining the presidential candidates. In the light of these statements, it is seen that Zarif's nomination for candidacy had come to an end before it even started.
On the other hand, the Council for Coordinating the Reforms Front members came together yesterday and tried to determine their nominations for candidacy. Spokesperson Azar Mansouri made a statement after the meeting and listed the prominent candidates of the reformist front. These are, respectively, the first joint candidates to come to the fore with the suggestion of 37 people for Zarif, 35 people for Eshaq Jahangiri (Current First Vice President), 32 people for Mostafa Tajzadeh (announced his candidacy for the presidency), 25 people for Masoud Pezeshkian (current deputy), 21 people for Mohammad Reza Aref, and 20 people for Mohsen Hashemi (current Chairman of the Tehran City Council). Shahindokht Molaverdi and Zahra Shojaei found a place in the list with eleven suggestions each.
According to the list, the highest vote rate after Zarif belongs to Jahangiri. Jahangiri is one of the options for the reformist candidate that is not included in the establishment's "objectionable list". Nevertheless, he is seen as one of the responsible for the unfavorable economic conditions in the country due to his eight-year vice presidency. In this respect, it seems that Jahangiri, number two in the government, has been discredited from the voters' viewpoint.
Tajzadeh, who got the third-highest vote rate, was another target of Khamenei's criticism. In his anonymous reference, Khamenei accused Tajzadeh of trying to deceive the people by making promises that could not be fulfilled and committing to the Iranian Constitution and Islam in words, not in deeds. IRGC has dramatically increased its influence in areas such as security, economy, and foreign policy. Now, they aim to get a candidate of military origin and one of them in the elections to control the country's politics entirely. Tajzadeh had promised in his statements that he would prevent the IRGC from winning the election and send them back to their quarters.
The fact that Pezeshkian, who is in the fourth place and of Turkish origin candidate for nomination, talked about the decentralized administration caused to be accused of "separatism" by some. Pezeshkian has a modest lifestyle and has not been charged with any corruption and irregularity throughout his political life, unlike many other politicians and candidates. Therefore, he will be one of the leading candidates for the nomination of reformers unless he is caught in any obstacle on which these accusations are based. Pezeshkian's reputation among the Turkish-origin voters as well as the Kurdish-origin voters will provide him with a critical voting potential from these regions.
Aref is known as a politician who was extremely cautious not to hurt the establishment. In this respect, he is a candidate far from meeting the expectations of the reformist voters. On the other hand, it can be said that Molaverdi and Shojaei have no chance considering that the Guardian Council has rejected female candidates for nomination who applied for various periods until now with a sexist interpretation based on the definition of "Rejal-e Siyasi (Statesman)", which is among the conditions sought in the president in the constitution.
Other candidates for nomination included in the list with fourteen people, such as Mohammad Shariatmadari, Mostafa Kavakebian, Mohammad Sadr, Abbas Akhoundi, Mahmoud Sadeghi, and Sadegh Kharrazi, do not have any effect on the voter base. The potential of these names to mobilize the reformist voters and get them to the polls is minimal.
Hashemi is one of the possible candidates that the establishment may tolerate under the current circumstances. Hashemi is the son of Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is one of the most influential actors in post-revolution Iranian political life. Also, by separating from Rafsanjani's eldest son Mehdi and his daughter Faezeh, who criticize the system, he follows a path of observing Khamenei's sensitivity. Thus, he tries to maintain his place in the system. In this respect, in case of his nomination of candidacy, it is likely that the Guardian Council may not reject him. Hashemi, who served as the general manager of the Tehran metro for many years, has been the Chairman of the Tehran City Council since 2017. In the local elections, which will be held concurrently with the upcoming presidential elections, he has not been a presidential candidate again.
Another point that stands out in Khamenei's speech is his emphasis on encouraging participation in the elections. Khamenei did not state that participating in the elections is a religious duty and responsibility, as in the past. Instead, he simply noted that participation in the elections would strengthen the foundations of the state. This approach shows that the significant decrease in the turnout rate in recent years is acceptable by the establishment. Because if the reformist candidates in question would be rejected in addition to the discontents that already exist in the reformists, the turnout will likely remain below 50%. Likewise, a similar result was experienced in the February 2020 parliamentary elections, and the turnout fell below 50% for the first time since the Revolution, remaining at the level of 42.5%. Although this situation provoked some discussions, it did not cause any extraordinary development in the country's political life. Therefore, the belief that the low turnout in the next election will not create any negative consequences for the country's political destiny has emerged in the establishment.
On the other hand, it is taken for granted that the hardliners win the election in an election with low turnout. Considering Khamenei's emphasis on a young, hezbollahi (hawkish) and a new blood president and power, it is aimed to eliminate reformers with electoral engineering or to engage in politics in a very limited area. Thus, it will be ensured that the executive power, which is the last step of Khamenei's policy of uniformizing the country's administration over the last five years, would be under the control of the hardliners.
Consequently, because of the rapid developments in Iranian politics in the last week, the political career of Zarif, who has served the country in the field of diplomacy for forty-two years and is the strongest potential presidential candidate of reformists, has come to an end. Also, it became evident that candidates for nomination such as Tajzadeh cannot find a place in the system due to their political stance.