Voters who believe voting is a pointless exercise are more likely to take to the streets.
By Tom Arms
Forget about the Iranian presidential elections on 18 June. Actually don’t completely dismiss them. They do have some importance. The key one being how many actually turn out to vote. If the figure is low—as expected—then the regime knows that it is in trouble.
Voters who believe voting is a pointless exercise are more likely to take to the streets. And it really is pointless. To be a candidate in the Iranian presidential elections you have to be vetted and approved by the Assembly of Experts and Guardian Council who are dominated by conservative religious figures.
Out of the estimated 30 “moderates” who put their name forward, only two have been approved, and they are so lackluster that they are unlikely to be much more than also-rans.
No, the real power and the real interest of the Iran watchers are focused on the successor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. There are two reasons: He is old and sick and he is the real power in Iran.
For a start, under the terms of the Iranian constitution, the Supreme Leader is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and responsible for foreign policy. He also makes all the final decisions on the economy, the environment and national planning. All the members of the judiciary are appointed by the Supreme Leader as well as key members of the media. As Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini is head of the Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts who vet and approve all candidates for the parliamentary assembly, the Majlis, as well as the presidency.
The Supreme Leader is chosen by the 12 members of the Guardian Council, six of whom are required to be experts in Islamic law and are chosen by the Supreme Leader. The other six are chosen by the Majlis after being approved and vetted by the Supreme Leader.
Ali Khameini is said to be very sick. This is not surprising. He is 81 years old and there have been at least three reports of his imminent demise. The last one in December said he was dead and would be succeeded by his son. It came from an Iranian journalist and was re-broadcast globally by the Israeli media. Reports of his death, however, were premature.
His son Motjaba Khameini is, however, seen as a serious contender to succeed his father. Iran is a country where family ties count in politics. Motjaba Khameini also has the backing of Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, leader of the powerful Revolutionary Guards. Motjaba himself has been in charge of a paramilitary group which led the crackdown against protesters in 2009. The one thing working against him is that Motjaba is not a senior cleric which means he lacks the necessary theological credentials required by the Iranian theocratic leadership.
One man who does have the right credentials is Ebrahim Raeesi who also has the backing of the Revolutionary Guard. He is currently Iran’s chief judge. Raeesi was runner-up in the 2017 presidential elections and immediately and unsuccessfully contested the results. He supports gender segregation, further Islamisation of universities, and censorship of the Internet. Raeesi is a sanctions target of both the US and EU.
Others who have aspirations for the top job are Sadeq Larijani and outgoing president Hassan Rouhani. Larijani is another hardliner with close ties to Khameini. Rouhani is not running for president this year because the position is limited to two four-year terms. He is the closest to a moderate of any of the major potential successors, but having said that he is better described as a pragmatist. But he has the advantage of having been president and being a long-standing member of the Assembly of Experts.
Hotjaba Khomeini and Ebrahim Raeesi are regarded as being the front runners. Sadeq Larijani and Hassan Rouhani are in the second field. There are also some other contenders. They include Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmoud Hashemi Sharoudi who was responsible for training Shi-ite militia. He was head of the judiciary from 1999 to 2009 when he was hailed as a moderate for raising the marriage age for women from nine to 13.
Finally, there is Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami who is definitely a hardliner. He is loyal to Supreme Leader Khameini and is responsible for delivering the political sermons at Tehran’s central mosque. Khatami is reported having said that if it was necessary he would advocate “spilling the blood of women” in order to force them to wear the Islamic Hijabs. His views are closely aligned with those of the Taliban in Afghanistan and he is probably the most anti-American of the possible contenders for the leadership.
The election is more important than this month’s presidential vote. But they are not happening yet so observers will be closely examining the result as it is the only opportunity that voters have to express their opinion through the ballot box, which is why many of them are likely to use the opportunity to register their dissatisfaction by boycotting the election. This is the tactic being urged on voters by the large Iranian diaspora in Europe. It appears to be finding a ready audience. A recent poll by the state-run broadcasting company reported that less than 50 percent of those eligible to vote were planning to do so. Given the fact that the poll comes from a state-run organization that figure is almost certainly exaggerated.
But then why should they vote? The only elections that count are those for the Supreme Leader, and the general public is not allowed to vote for him. And if the Supreme Leader is not subject to the whims of the ballot box, why should he bother with the problems of the Iranian hoi polloi?
- Netanyahu is out—or is he? And what about the impact on the future of peace in the Middle East? Eight opposition parties of the left, right and middle—including an Arab nationalist party—have united to end Bibi’s 12-year rule. Their one common denominator is hatred of the ruthless, divisive, arrogant man who has sowed discord and division and alienated just about every Israeli politician. Can hate alone hold such a motley coalition together? It is a truism of coalition politics that the more parties required the shorter the government. And working against them is the overpowering figure of Netanyahu who has already called on right-wing politicians to refuse to confirm the new government in its first Knesset vote. This would make the proposed coalition government the shortest ever in a long line of short-lived Israeli governments. Assuming that the coalition survives the Knesset vote, they are counting on the forthcoming corruption trial of Netanyahu to remove the Likud strongman from the political scene. It is a hope but not a certainty. But what about foreign policy and relations with the Palestinians. Expect no change. The coalition will have a two-man rotating premiership with Natali Bennett and Yair Lapid each serving two years. But the key figure is Bennett who has declared he is “further to the right than Netanyahu.” He is opposed to the two-state solution, the Iran Nuclear Accord, Hamas, or any accommodation with the Palestinians.
- Cornwall is a long peninsula in southwest Britain separated into a northern and southern coast by a granite spine. It is best known as a holiday destination and for its pixies, fairies and rich history of smugglers, miners, packet ships, fishermen and cavaliers. Next week it will attempt to carve out a name for itself as host of a G7 summit. The actual meeting place is Corbis Bay which is located on the wild north coast facing the surf of the Atlantic Ocean. This will be the first chance world leaders have had to meet face to face in any numbers since the start of the pandemic, and in addition to the G7 leaders four others have been invited: Australia’s Scott Morrison, Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and India’s Narendra Modi, who will attend via cyberspace due to India’s pandemic problems. As expected, Coronavirus will be top of agenda. First is the problem of how to distribute the vaccine to developing countries, and secondly how to handle the rebooting of the world economy when the pandemic is under control. They agree that the pandemic cannot be beaten until it is beaten in every corner of the globe and that vaccine distribution is the key to victory. They disagree on the how. The US, India and South Africa are keen to set up manufacturing centers in the developing world and everyone else is against it. Next on the agenda is climate change and promotion of green industries. Host Premier Boris Johnson is determined that money allocated for Covid recovery includes a big chunk for investment in green technology and industries. Climate change, he argues, should be seen as an investment opportunity. It is no coincidence that Corbis Bay is around the corner from Cornwall’s only geothermal energy plant. In the summit he will face opposition from at least three of the invited guests. Indian and South African industries are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels and Australia is a major exporter of coal.
- Before the G7 heads of government meet in Cornwall, their finance ministers will gather in the ornate surroundings of Lancaster House a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace. At the top of their agenda will be reaching an agreement for an international tax structure to deal with tax-dodging multinationals, especially the social media giants. Too many of these companies are basing their operations in countries with low corporate taxes. France and Germany, for instance, charge a 33 percent corporate tax. So Facebook—among others—bases its tax headquarters in Ireland where it paid 12.5 percent in tax on the $69.273 billion it earned in 2020. The richer countries have been trying to push Ireland into increasing its corporate taxes for years or devising a system whereby the multinationals pay taxes in countries in which they operate rather than in just where they are headquartered. The problem is that the Irish economy is heavily dependent on the multinationals. Last year they paid 80 percent of the country’s corporate tax and employed 25 percent of the workforce, who paid 50 percent of Ireland’s income tax. Whatever is agreed at Lancaster House will not be the final word. It will need the support of the wider G20 summit meeting in Venice in July. Ireland—and every other small company whose economic survival depends on their status as a tax haven—will be fighting tooth and nail against the big boys as they have been doing for years.
- In the background, and not necessarily on the agenda, of the G7 Summit will be the decision of the Boris Johnson government to cut its foreign aid budget from 0.7 to 0.5 percent of GDP. The damage to humanitarian efforts and the harm to Britain’s position in the world is almost incalculable – Which is why there is a strong possibility that a group of Tory parliamentary rebels will join forces with the Labor Party and the Liberal Democrats to reverse the cuts on the eve of the G7 summit. This is great news for humanitarian efforts around the world as Britain is the third largest foreign aid donor and widely praised for both the efficiency and efficacy of its programs. On the downside, it looks as if the prime minister does not have control of a key part of his foreign policy just as he is about to host the most important foreign policy event in years. It is an embarrassment for the prime minister, but I think he deserves it and it is worth it.
(The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sindh Courier)