Iran's Tenth Presidential Elections: Candidates, Issues, and Implications

By Abootalebi, Ali R. | Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online), September 2009 | Go to article overview

Iran's Tenth Presidential Elections: Candidates, Issues, and Implications


Abootalebi, Ali R., Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)


Iran's tenth presidential election on June 12, 2009 saw the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad face off against former prime minister, Mir-Hossein Mousavi; two-time Majlis Speaker Mehdi Karroubi; and former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Mohsen Reza'i. More than a month after the election, the leaders of the Islamic Republic were still dazzled by the political upheaval that followed. The immediate and widespread demonstrations in Tehran and across major Iranian cities in support of the defeated presidential candidates were unprecedented in their magnitude, scale, duration, and level of violence. Just six days after the election, former president and head of the powerful Expediency Council, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, criticized the authorities for their handling of the elections during his sermon at Friday prayers at Tehran University and acknowledged that ambiguities surrounding the election had broken the nation's trust in the establishment: "Doubt has been cast.... There are two groups; one has no doubt and is moving ahead, while the other [group], that is not few in number, says it has doubts. We need to take action to remove this doubt." The Leader of the Association of Teachers and Researchers, Ayatollah Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, praised Rafsanjani's sermon and called on officials to consider his words of advice. Leading opposition figures Mir- Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were also present at the prayers, despite some calls for their arrest. The following day, Ayatollah Mousavi Tabrizi also suggested that: "By freeing detainees, relaxing media restrictions and condoling with the families of the victims of the unrest, officials can create an atmosphere where the people do not feel they are ruled by a certain group."2

Nevertheless, the supporters of the "status quo" have continued to reject the notion that a crisis of legitimacy has rocked the very foundation of the regime. For example, Ayatollah Yazdi has argued that "In Islam, the legitimacy of a government is granted by God and its acceptance by the people."3 Ayatollah Khamene'i and President Ahmadinejad have blamed foreign hands and anti-revolutionary forces for fomenting much of the unrest, thus denying that the root-cause of the crisis might lie within the current system.

Iran has travelled far in the past 30 years, from a country torn by a revolution to a burgeoning country rich in human capital and natural resources. It has the potential to become a regional powerhouse. Yet the ever present gap between the message of the revolution-with its promised prosperity, Islamic democracy, and spiritual fulfillment- and what has actually been delivered has eventually culminated in a crisis of political legitimacy and governance.

Perhaps it was inevitable that without a "blue print" for creating an "Islamic Republic" that opinions and interests would clash over the type of religious and political governance to be established. Though the current crisis has shaken the foundation of political leadership in the country, the political opposition's demands do not advocate the destruction of the Iranian system.

In his letter to his supporters, Mir-Hossein Mousavi clearly stated that his goal was not against the foundation of the Islamic Republic, but instead against liars and manipulators who in the name of Islam have manipulated people's rights. He further urged the government not only to allow for peaceful demonstrations (based on Article 27 of the constitution), but to actually encourage them. On July 20, 2009, Ayatollah Khamene'i, recognizing the severity of the political divisions within the system, deliberately warned that "If the nation feels that in the remarks made by certain officials there lies an issue of enmity with the Islamic system and certain hands are at work to help a movement that seeks to deliver a blow to the establishment, they [the nation] will distance themselves [from those officials], even if such officials pursue a slogan that has arisen from the nation. …

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