How the mullahs choose a president

With presidential elections due to take place on 18th June, the theocratic dictatorship that rules Iran faced a dilemma. 592 candidates had registered as candidates. Three of them were even sufficiently delinquent to be considered credible in the eyes of the mullahs. But the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had to choose one whom he would ensure would be backed by the powerful Guardian Council and would then be certain to win the election based on intimidation, buying votes, stuffed ballot boxes and outright fakery. The chosen one is Ebrahim Raisi, a notorious executioner and abuser, placed on the US Treasury black list on 10th November 2019, for serial human rights violations. 

Many Iran-watchers are struggling to come to terms with Raisi’s emergence as the key presidential front-runner. He has neither academic, nor religious standing. Aged 60, he is a callous thug and mass murderer turned religious fanatic. Entering the main seminary in the Holy City of Qom at 15 years of age, he joined the clerical regime’s judiciary as assistant prosecutor in Karaj (West of Tehran) when he was only 19 years old. He never studied law, but his loyalty and ruthless enthusiasm for crushing opponents of the fundamentalist regime was his ticket to fame and fortune.  He became the prosecutor of the revolutionary court of Karaj when he was just 20. 

In 1988, as Deputy Prosecutor of Tehran, he was one of the four individuals whom the then Supreme Leader, the psychotic Ruhollah Khomeini, appointed to a ‘death commission’, to carry out his infamous fatwa to massacre imprisoned activists of the opposition Mojahedin e-Khalq (MEK). During that massacre, 30,000 political prisoners were summarily executed within a few months. For his zeal as a merciless executioner, he was promoted to the position of Tehran Prosecutor in 1989 and held that position for five years. In 2012 he became Deputy Head of the Judiciary and then Judiciary Chief in March 2019.  Since then, he has directed the execution of 251 people in 2019, and 267 people in 2020, and scores of executions so far in 2021. Raisi often supervised the torture of men and women and then witnessed their hanging.

Raisi’s fast-track to the clerical regime’s presidency is the clearest sign yet that the Supreme Leader is panicking. Since 2018, there have been three nationwide uprisings, with daily protests continuing in towns and cities across Iran. The economy has collapsed. More than 75% of the population now struggle to survive on daily incomes below the international poverty line. Children rummage through trash cans for scraps of food. The situation has become explosive. 80 million Iranians are sick of the theocratic regime, sick of their corruption and incompetence and sick of their squandering the nation’s wealth on foreign proxy-wars and terrorism, turning Iran into an international pariah. Factional feuding amongst the ruling elite, as the mullahs struggle to cling on to power, has brought the regime to its knees and now a well-organized and potent opposition movement has grown in influence and popularity across the nation. There are daily calls for a mass boycott of the sham elections.

To try to deal with the escalating crisis, Khamenei has found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. He has had to close ranks in order to consolidate his rapidly dwindling authority. Confronted by three ‘hardline’ presidential candidates, he had to ensure the disqualification of former uncompromising president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and loyal insider Ali Larijani, who were not deemed sufficiently ruthless. Larijani was the parliament speaker for 12 years, secretary of the supreme national security council, head of the state-run radio and TV, minister of culture and an IRGC general. But even these radical qualifications were insufficient for Khamenei. He instructed the Guardian Council, which has the final say in who the candidates shall be, to boot out Ahmadinejad and Larijani, leaving Raisi as the favored candidate. The Guardian Council is the Supreme Leader’s mouthpiece and does his bidding.

Larijani has quietly accepted his disqualification, while Ahmadinejad has stated that he feels like a shepherd on a hill watching an approaching flood that will engulf the nation. His prophecy may come true. Desperate to distract public attention from his blatant manipulation of the presidential election and to silence the disgruntled internal rival factions, Khamenei helped to prolong the conflict in Gaza. The head of a pro-Tehran Palestinian group even sent a letter, thanking him and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and its commander for being on the “battle field” in Gaza, and providing material support, weapons and training to carry on the deadly conflict. Khamenei hoped that this would persuade voters that the theocratic regime was still the main supporter of Palestine and arch enemy of Israel.

But even this futile show of force will not provide a way out of the deadly impasse Khamenei is facing. Iran is now a powder keg ready to explode, with a mass of predominantly young, hungry and enraged people eager to light the touch-paper. Repression, restrictions on social media, arrests, torture and executions have all failed to prevent the nationwide spread of an organized opposition in the form of MEK resistance units. Khamenei is battling for his survival. 

The fake elections in Iran should be an abject lesson for Western appeasers who for decades have pinned their hopes on illusory moderates or ‘reformers’ within the medieval clerical dictatorship. Because it signalled weakness, this misguided approach worked to the detriment of the Iranian people and only emboldened the regime. Assured of silence and inaction by the international community, the mullahs are confident that they can literally get away with murder. During the last month, from Kabul to Riyadh, from Beirut to Baghdad and from Damascus to the Gaza Strip, killings and explosions have taken place everywhere, with the mullahs’ regime as the main instigator or facilitator in every case. Further attempts at appeasement or revising the failed nuclear deal will only encourage more repression internally and more aggression externally.

The time has come for the West to end its policy of appeasement and adopt a firm approach, condemning the sham election and standing beside the Iranian people in their demand for regime change and for the indictment in the international courts of Khamenei, Ebrahim Raisi and the other leaders of the theocratic dictatorship for murder, human rights abuse and crimes against humanity.