Who’s left to run against Rouhani?

I feel you, bro

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose hypothetical “political comeback” has been one of the more interesting stories in the run up to next year’s Iranian presidential election, had a whole lot of cold water dumped on his plans today:

Ayatollah Khamenei made the statement about Mr. Ahmadinejad during a lecture for seminary students at his office. He was responding to rumors, circulating in Tehran for weeks, that he had barred Mr. Ahmadinejad from participating in the coming election.

“Someone, a man, came to me,” he said, presumably of Mr. Ahmadinejad, in the typically elliptical style of Shiite clerics. “I told him not to take part in that certain issue, both for his own and the country’s good.”

“I did not tell him not to participate,” the supreme leader continued. “I said I do not find it advisable that you participate.”

If that sounds a little wishy-washy, it’s only because, technically, Khamenei can only advise candidates about running, he’s not allowed to block them from doing so. But in Iran, the “advice” of the Supreme Leader is generally the last word on a subject. Ahmadinejad could still run, obviously, but he’d be publicly flouting Khamenei’s wishes, which would definitely hurt him with voters, and the Guardian Council, which can bar candidates from running, seems likely to disqualify him, something they were considering before Khamenei piped up.

This is a bit of a surprise from Khamenei, who hasn’t exactly been current president Hassan Rouhani’s biggest fan of late, but it’s not that surprising–Ahmadinejad’s second term was marked by a very public spat between him and Khamenei over political appointments and, generally, over the powers of the president vis-à-vis the Supreme Leader. Rouhani, though he hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with Khamenei and has criticized some of the more restrictive elements of the Iranian regime, hasn’t tried to openly challenge Khamenei’s authority the way Ahmadinejad did (his criticisms have been carefully worded to avoid directly going after Khamenei). And don’t discount lingering resentment over the 2009 election and subsequent protests/crackdown as a factor–Khamenei would undoubtedly like to avoid reopening that can of worms. Ahmadinejad and his pals are also at the center of ongoing corruption problems in the Iranian economy, problems that have done almost as much to discourage foreign investment in Iran as the lingering uncertainty over sanctions has. Add all that up and a potential Ahmadinejad candidacy becomes a pretty toxic mix.

Plus, it’s entirely possible that Khamenei values the stability that would come from yet another two-term presidency (no Iranian president since Khamenei himself was elected in 1981 has failed to be reelected) over having a more like-minded person in that office.

Rouhani is the obvious beneficiary of the Supreme Leader’s “advice.” Continue reading “Who’s left to run against Rouhani?”

Rouhani’s toughest opponent?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is, as you know, up for reelection next year. There are many reasons to think that, barring some unforeseen security and/or economic crisis between now and the election, Rouhani shouldn’t have a particularly difficult time winning another term. For one thing, inertia is on his side. Rouhani is the seventh president of Iran since the Islamic Revolution. The first, Abolhassan Banisadr, was impeached about a year and a half into his first term because he apparently failed to get with the program to Ayatollah Khomeini’s satisfaction. His replacement, Mohammad-Ali Rajai, was assassinated less than a month into his presidency by the Mojahedin-e Khalq. The next four presidents–Ali Khamenei, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–each won reelection (granted, Ahmadinejad’s reelection was shady to say the least). So Iranians seem to be inclined to keep their presidents in office for a full two terms.

Obviously there’s a first time for everything, but Rouhani looks like he’s in pretty good shape. He’s very popular, with an approval rating that usually falls somewhere north of 80% in most polls. Iranians are optimistic, with over 50% saying that economic conditions are “improving” according to that same poll. The recent parliamentary elections, which were as much a referendum on Rouhani’s performance in office and his successful conclusion of the nuclear deal (which also remains popular), went about as well for Rouhani and his ally, Rafsanjani, as they could realistically have expected, given the electoral constraints under which their candidates had to operate.

And, maybe most crucially, there’s no obvious candidate emerging to seriously challenge him. Most polls that ask the question show that the second most-popular political figure in Iran behind Rouhani is his own foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who (needless to say) is unlikely to run against his boss. Rouhani, who is personally at best a moderate and really shades more toward the conservative side of the spectrum (he’s no reformer), has nevertheless positioned himself as the only hope for moderate and reform-minded voters, and he’s slowly winning over all but the truly hard-line conservatives. There’s frequent chatter that Ahmadinejad, still the totem for Iranian hard-liners, might challenge Rouhani–Iranian presidents are limited to two consecutive terms but can, under the constitution, serve a third term later on. But I’ve yet to see any polling that puts Ahmadinejad’s approval anywhere close to Rouhani’s, and he’s such a known quantity that it’s unlikely he could dramatically build new support in a campaign (again, barring some major unforeseen event). So there’s no clear contender looming on Rouhani’s horizon.

However, there is one who could emerge pretty quickly, if he were to decide to run.

What? No, not the bodybuilder. The guy in the mural who appears to be creepily leering at the bodybuilder.
Continue reading “Rouhani’s toughest opponent?”

BREAKING: Iran is threatening retaliation over Syria, if by “Iran” you mean this one Iranian guy

Always thinking one war ahead of the rest of America, our media is breathlessly reporting on communiques that have been issued by “Iran” to Shiʿi militias in Iraq, ordering them to strike at American interests in retaliation for any US strike against Syria. Take The Wall Street Journal (please!), whose story is headlined “Iran Plots Revenge, U.S. Says”:

The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, officials said, amid an expanding array of reprisal threats across the region.

On CBS.com, their story (based on the WSJ story, because why do your own reporting?) is called “Report: Iran message orders Iraqi militias to retaliate if U.S. strikes Syria”:

An Iranian order intercepted by the United States instructs Shiite militia groups in Iraq to attack the American Embassy in Baghdad should the U.S. strike Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Just to show I’m not picking on the media heavyweights, Raw Story went with “Iran reportedly pushing for revenge strikes if U.S. attacks Syria”:

The leader of a paramilitary arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has allegedly ordered militia groups in Iraq to strike U.S. interests in the event of an American military incursion into Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported.

So clearly Iran is prepared to–wait, what did that last lede say? “The leader of a paramilitary arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards”? Is that the same thing as “Iran”? Continue reading “BREAKING: Iran is threatening retaliation over Syria, if by “Iran” you mean this one Iranian guy”