After the framed election of Raisi, it is likely that the public’s hope that their conditions will improve will only diminish, and widespread disillusionment in the state will intensify.
Because of its prevalence, corruption became the most discussed topic during the presidential debates despite a short campaign.
The recent presidential election in Iran, characterized by low turnout and accusations of rigging, sets the tone for the new government’s trajectory. A totalitarian regime, the Iranian government utilizes propaganda to propagate illusions of victory amidst denial of any wrongdoings. This false information is evident upon a close look into the details of the election, but the facts are muddled due to the regime’s monopoly on the news. This corruption offers insight into the greater context of Iranian political transformation, pointing to potential short- and long-term implications.
It is a Selection, Not an Election
The regime declared hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, head of the judiciary and Khamenei’s protege, as the winner of the election, making him Iran’s eighth president. Of those who won the presidency over its 12 terms of existence, five ruled for two terms, illustrative of some degree of mass appeal. Raisi, however, received a significantly lower number of votes than those before him, indicating his unpopularity among the public. In analyzing the elections of his predecessors, we see that moderate presidents Khatami and Rouhani received around 70% of the votes, whereas hardliners like Raisi and Ahmadinejad received nearly 50% of the votes. Even then, Raisi ranks lowest of them all, suggesting that Iranians are less willing to interact with non-reformist candidates. Further, it highlights their seeking of serious reforms from within the regime, which they have yet to receive even after eight presidents.
As Election Day progressed and it became clear that voter turnout was remarkably low, the Iranian government attempted to encourage and mobilize a disillusioned populace to vote. It went so far as to extend voting time twice, reaching nearly 12 hours in total in some areas. Despite these efforts, the number of blank ballots was much higher than in any previous election. Totalling 14% of official ballots, blank votes ranked second after President-elect Raisi’s votes, and thus higher than any other candidate. While the regime may engineer the election, it cannot force people to elect the person the regime wants in power.
The JCPOA and Power Consolidation
As discussions regarding the JCPOA continue in Vienna, many experts are noting that it is in the best interest of both the U.S. and Iran to reach an agreement. This moment marks a particularly critical point in the negotiations, as each side is pushing the other for more concessions. Regardless of the final outcome, the Iranian regime will call any deal in Vienna a victory, because the negotiator is the deep state in Iran and not the current moderate Iranian president or his government. Thus the departure of Rouhani will not change much in terms of Iranian foreign policy, neither regionally nor globally.
Getting the sanctions lifted is not the regime’s main objective, though; rather, its focus is consolidating power and persuading the Iranians of the strength of the regime. The Iranian government is well aware of the disastrous impact of the sanctions on its society, and its corruption only exacerbates it. Poverty and unemployment have increased, living conditions have worsened, the police state has grown in power, and the people continue to experience greater repression and limitation of liberties.
Because of its prevalence, corruption became the most discussed topic during the presidential debates despite a short campaign. Corruption is not the result of a single individual or party, but is the result of a long-standing totalitarian regime that oppresses any opposition and rules with a dangerous nationalism. Further, such totalitarianism disables all government institutions that are meant to hold officials accountable and fight corruption.
Uprooting corruption requires transparency, independent public institutions, and protected liberties including that of political assembly, none of which Iran has. Therefore, given the current form of government in Iran, it is likely that the level of corruption will continue as the interconnection of armed bodies and clergy in the Iranian government increases.
We Should Not Expect a Policy Change
With the expected lifting of some sanctions and the return of Iranian oil exporting, the regime will be able to acquire liquid cash/hard currency, part of which will be used to fund its proxies in the region. Funding these militias, which aim to increase Iran’s regional influence, has drained the Iranian government’s budget and deformed its regional image, as well as contributed to the country’s poverty and high unemployment rate. One of many expected outcomes of the new hardliner president is an increase in regional tension with GCC states through one of Iran’s proxies militias, similar to what is happening in Iraq and Syria.
After the framed election of Raisi, it is likely that the public’s hope that their conditions will improve will only diminish, and widespread disillusionment in the state will intensify. This election cycle forced the Iranian regime to face the legitimacy crisis, with which it attempted to deal by disenfranchising many Iranians and mass disqualifying candidates, including members of the regime. This action only further lowered its popularity and, in turn, probably strengthened the alliance of the clergy and military. This alliance has the potential to instigate disaster as the regime is creating more enemies while simultaneously losing part of its leadership and marginalizing more of its publics.
Dr. Mohammad Al-Rumaihi is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kuwait. He has been an Editor-in-Chief for prominent newspapers and magazines in Kuwait and other Arab Gulf states and was Secretary-General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature 1998-2002.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.