Iran’s May 19 Election Will Not Change Nature of Brutal Regime, Critics Say

By Patrick Goodenough | May 8, 2017 | 4:17 AM EDT

Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi, left, is viewed as close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Photo: Raisi.org)

(CNSNews.com) – The May 19 election in Iran will make very little difference to Tehran’s major policies of repression and terror-sponsorship, two critics of the regime said during a press conference discussion in Paris on the upcoming vote.

But it will likely add to a process of weakening the regime, they said, particularly if the Trump administration’s Iran policy review now underway results in policy shifts and greater economic difficulties.

Giulio Terzi,  a former Italian foreign minister, and Mohammad Mohaddessin, who chairs the foreign affairs committee of the National Council of Resistance on Iran (NCRI), both argued that whether the “moderate” incumbent Hasan Rouhani or the “hardline” cleric Ebrahim Raisi wins, key policies won’t change.

There may be tactical differences between various candidates, the Italian said, but not on the essential issues, including keeping the regime in power.

“The imminent presidential election will change very little of the true nature of the autocratic regime – a regime which is violent against its own people and is driven by messianic vision of domination in the whole region and beyond,” said Terzi.

With regard to foreign policy and national security, he said, “it is irrelevant who becomes the next president,” since those issues fall under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Terzi labeled the entire voting process the “de facto selection” by the supreme leader of a new president, pointing to the fact that the Guardian Council, a small body appointed by Khamenei, had disqualified all but six of more than 1,600 prospective candidates.

The final word lies with the supreme leader, he said, who engineers the entire process to ensure the desired outcome.

As for the leading pair of candidates, Mohaddessin noted that Raisi was a member of a notorious “death panel” that oversaw the mass execution of imprisoned dissidents in 1988, decreed by then-supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. By some accounts tens of thousands of dissidents were executed.

But Rouhani, he said, “has been in the decision-making centers of the regime from the first days and has been directly involved in all of the crimes of the regime.”

Mohaddessin added, as recorded by human rights groups, that 3,000 prisoners have been executed have taken place during Rouhani’s first term. (A U.N. human rights investigator has described this is a 20-year high in application of the death penalty.)

“The difference between Rouhani and Raisi is that Raisi is a mass murderer and Rouhani combined brutality and murder with deception.”

In the 38 years since the Islamic revolution, the U.S. and Europe had debated and discussed as Iran held numerous “so-called elections” that saw seven presidents in office, Mohaddessin recalled. But none had brought any change in major policies – repression at home, the nuclear issue, and export of terrorism – and neither would this one, he added.

Terzi said U.S. and European governments for decades have been deluding themselves, chasing a “mirage” that there are moderates and hardliners in Iran.

“This is only a perception which has been pushed by Iran and its supporters for obvious reasons, and has led to disastrous results,” he said.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, right, and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Photo: Office of the Supreme Leader)

Both men saw the prospect of the regime weakening further.

On April 18, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that Trump has ordered an interagency review into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, to evaluate whether the suspensions of sanctions under the agreement was vital to U.S. national security interests.

Terzi said the U.S. policy review may “increase the fragility of international economic relations that the regime in recent years has been trying to reactivate.”

He said already foreign banks aren’t thinking seriously about going back into the Iranian market, and with the exception of oil and gas – which enrich regime elites – the people of Iran have seen little benefit from easing of sanctions under the JCPOA.

Iran’s election could further worsen the economy, he said.

“The more a dictatorial regime has problems with its economy and social stability, the more it radicalizes,” Terzi added – leading to a spiral that could precipitate an end to the system.

Mohaddessin agreed that Iran was approaching a “turning point” as the regime weakens – not because of the election itself, but because of policy changes in Washington and economic difficulties.

The press conference was organized by the NCRI, an exiled opposition movement dedicated along with the affiliated People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (MEK) to the regime’s overthrow. The NCRI/MEK was designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization until its delisting in 2012.

Apart from Rouhani and Raisi there are four other candidates in the May 19 election: Tehran mayor and former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf; Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, a member of a council that advises the supreme leader; former vice-president Mostafa Hashemi-Taba; and current vice president Es’haq Jahangiri.

Khamenei at the weekend called on Iranians to vote in massive numbers, saying that a large turnout would send an intimidating message to the country’s enemies and prove that the Iranian people were “ready to defend the Islamic Republic.”

In an earlier speech, the supreme leader warned that a poor turnout would encourage increased “aggression” from the Americans.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow