Bobby Ghosh writes: With barely more than two months to go before what may be the Islamic Republic’s most important elections in a generation, there are no visible signs of campaigning in the streets of Tehran. One reason: the Iranian political cycle is, perhaps mercifully, much shorter than the American one. But another reason emerges in my conversations with politicians, clerics, and businessmen. There’s no electioneering, at least not the kind you see in most democracies, because nobody can be entirely certain who is running.
Registration of candidates opens tomorrow, Dec 17. But the fate of many aspirants will be decided within a week — long before the voting begins — by a small group of clerics and jurists, known as the Guardian Council, who are constitutionally tasked to ensure that the Islamic Republic remains true to its religious ideals.
Under the Iranian system, candidates for any election must first be vetted by this 12-member body, which has, since the founding of the Islamic Republic, been controlled by the country’s Supreme Leader—first ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and now ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guardians also have veto power over any legislation enacted by parliament, and most of the decisions of the country’s president.
This makes the Council a powerful instrument by which the Supreme Leader can head off political and social reforms at the pass, by preventing reformists from standing for elections, or perform an end-run around any attempted reforms by the legislative or executive branches.
Iran’s February elections are for two powerful institutions: the 290-member Majlis, or parliament, and the highly influential, 86-member Assembly of Experts. The latter is especially important this time around because its mandate is to select, supervise, and, at least in theory, remove the Supreme Leader. It has an eight-year term, twice the duration of parliament, so this particular Assembly will likely play the pivotal role of deciding who gets to succeed Khamenei. [Continue reading…]