Victory Raisi secures control for Iran’s hardliners

When Ebrahim Raisi first contested the Iranian presidency in 2017, the shadow conservative cleric lost much, failing to win the aspiring voters who had set their hopes on the republic’s nuclear deal to open the country.

Four years later, the collapse of the 2015 agreement signed by Iran with the world powers, a dry economic crisis unleashed by US sanctions, disillusioned voters and the regime’s determination to have a hard line in place has prepared it. the road to his electoral victory with 62 percent of the vote.

But for many inside and outside the republic their victory bears the signs of a pyrrhic victory.

More than half of voters have chosen not to vote in what reformers have described as a rare act of civil disobedience. The turnout of 48.8 percent was the lowest in the history of the Islamic republic, and 3.7 million people chose to ruin their ballots, more than voted for by one of Raisi’s rivals.

“The message of the election is that the dissident faction is much bigger than Raisi’s supporters,” said Hossein Yazdi, a reformist activist.

Many of those who distanced themselves from the polling stations have presumed that the result was ordered after the authorities prevented the main reformist candidates from standing. It was widely assumed that Raisi, the head of the judiciary, was backed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, with the elders using the election to regain control of all important branches of the state for the first time. in almost a decade.

Analysts said Raisi’s victory increased his chances of succeeding 82-year-old Khamenei as supreme leader at his death. But only if he can navigate the challenges he inherits – an economy battered by sanctions and coronaviruses, and a polarized society that is vulnerable to unrest.

A woman votes in Iran’s presidential election. Turnout was the lowest in the history of the Islamic republic, and 3.7 million people chose to cast their ballots © Yasser Al Zayyat / AFP via Getty Images

His supporters hope to be able to end the factional struggles that shattered the regime during President Hassan Rouhani’s second and final term, which ends in August. Unity in the theocratic system, which has competing centers of power, and a fluid succession are considered Khamenei’s priorities. These goals have become more urgent since the republic endured its most turbulent period since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

“One nation, one team, one goal,” was one of Raisi’s election slogans.

“I believe in Raisi because he is 100 percent in line with the leadership,” said an insider of the regime. “Parliament, the leadership, the judiciary – they will all be in line and behave better.”

The catalyst for Iran’s recent unrest was Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the nuclear deal. It has imposed paralyzing sanctions on the republic and on individuals including Raisi, strangling Iran’s ability to export oil and putting it in recession.

The turmoil encouraged the hardships and shattered the dreams of the 24m Iranians who had voted for Rouhani in 2017 in the hope that the nuclear deal would introduce change and prosperity.

His disillusionment played into Raisi’s hands. His Conservative constituency heeded the calls for votes of its leaders, while reformists stayed at home.

So, even though it has technically weathered a landslide, it poses a serious challenge without the strong popular mandate of its predecessors.

“Raisi has entered a game that he will lose. In the eyes of the public, rightly or wrongly, his victory was predetermined, “said one reformist analyst.” This makes people angry. ”

Others fear that harsh persecutors will seek to marginalize and oppress even pro-democracy militants.

“There will no doubt be the suppression of pro-democracy people,” said Yazdi, the activist.

There have long been concerns about Raisi’s human rights record. It now threatens to undermine its credibility at home and abroad as Tehran negotiates with world powers to reach an agreement to bring the United States back to the nuclear deal and lift sanctions.

President Joe Biden has said he will meet with the agreement if Iran fully complies with the agreement. But the new government will be led by a man whom the Trump administration has accused of overseeing executions, “torture and other inhuman treatment of prisoners” when it imposed sanctions on Raisi in 2019.

He was linked to the execution of thousands of political prisoners when he was state prosecutor in the late 1980s. He did not comment on that period.

Born into a clerical family, Raisi’s path to the top became apparent five years ago when Khamenei appointed him custodian of the Imam Reza shrine in his hometown of Mashhad, a powerful position guarding Iran’s holiest site. .

People pass an election flag in Tehran. Analysts say Ebrahim Raisi’s victory increases his chances of succeeding Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as supreme leader © WANA via REUTERS

After Khamenei appointed him head of the judiciary, one of the main centers of hard power, in 2019, he used the post to launch an anti-corruption crusade that earned him applause, even among some of his supporters. critics. Others, however, saw the move as a resurgence of their political ambitions.

During the election campaign, he offered few political details, but said national issues were his priority. He sought to appeal to Iranians who have suffered economic difficulties, sometimes referring to their modest education.

“Not only did I experience misery, I experienced misery,” was a phrase he repeated.

He made only fleeting references to foreign policy and few expect significant changes, whether it be Iran’s hostile relations with the United States, its support for regional militant groups or the expansion of its missile program.

Unlike Rouhani, Raisi had little exposure overseas, and regional policy and major security decisions were made by Khamenei.

Analysts add that he will probably be less radically open-minded than Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s last tough president. His first term was characterized by bombings against the US and Israel and costly and populist domestic policies that sparked economic chaos.

But even the Conservatives acknowledge that Raisi is doing a daunting mission.

“It is unlikely that Raisi’s term will become similar to Ahmadi-Nejad’s and Rouhani’s.” [chaotic last years]”Said Mohammad Mohajeri, a conservative analyst.” The political boat in Iran is shaking a lot.

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