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May 16, 2017 6:04 pm

Iranian Democracy Advocates Dismiss Presidential Election as ‘Puppet Show’ as Rouhani Faces Off With Conservative Challenger Raisi

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Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi addressing an election rally in Isfahan. Photo: Screenshot

Iranian democracy advocates say they are unimpressed with Friday’s presidential contest between incumbent Hassan Rouhani and his rival Ebrahim Raisi, slamming both as “weak candidates,” and dismissing the election itself as a “puppet show,” during interviews with The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

“The election in Iran is a tightly controlled and stage-managed process that has been designed to produce the favorable result to the regime,” said Reza Parchizadeh, an Iranian political analyst.

Saeed Ghasseminejad — an Iran Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) — observed that Rouhani was starting his re-election bid from a weak position, having achieved little over his four-year term other than the nuclear deal with six world powers in July 2015, which many ordinary Iranians complain has not yielded any meaningful economic benefits.

“However, Raisi is an even weaker candidate,” Ghasseminejad said. “He does not speak well, he is known for his ruthlessness (as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor) in the 1980s, he is inexperienced. The middle-class Iranians are really afraid of him, which pushes them to reluctantly vote for Rouhani.”

Rouhani and Raisi emerged as the final candidates on the ballot paper on Monday, after Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf withdrew his candidacy in favor of Raisi. A survey by the regime-affiliated Iranian Students Polling Agency last week revealed that support for Rouhani was at 42 percent, with Raisi on 27 percent and Qalibaf on 25 percent. The election race began with more than 1,600 presidential candidates putting their names forward for approval by the powerful Guardians Council, among them over 100 women, none of whom made it past the initial stage.

While both candidates draw support from different constituencies — with Raisi likely to win the support of conservatives opposed to Rouhani’s bid for Western investment in Iran’s economy — the two of them remain faithful to the regime’s core positions, such as support for Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria, as well as its refusal to recognize Israel. As far as Parchizadeh is concerned, “it makes no difference whether Raisi is announced as president or Rouhani.”

Ghasseminejad argued that a Raisi victory would leave the Tehran regime “more vulnerable, as it will lose the diplomatic shield that [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif and Rouhani have been providing, behind which the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and security forces freely murdered hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and oppressed millions of Iranians.”

“A Raisi victory will further split the regime and prepare the ground for another 2009-type uprising in the near future,” Ghasseminejad said.

Parchizadeh pointed out that “the presidency is a largely ceremonial position in Iran. It is in fact the supreme leader, the Revolutionary Guards, and the regime’s elite who make and enact policy.”

“The election is only a puppet show,” he said.

Skepticism over the election was evident in US policy circles as well. Writing in Politico, Elliott Abrams — a former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush — offered a tongue-in-cheek argument in favor of a Raisi victory.

“If Raisi wins, two things will happen,” Abrams wrote. “First, it will be evident — especially to Iranians — that the election was stolen, so the Iranian people will be that much more alienated from their rulers. The day the regime falls will have been brought that much closer. And second, the entire world will have a much clearer view of the nature of that regime today.”

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