By Elie Chalhoub
Iran’s presidential election seems to be moving along with few controversies. Nevertheless, the election represents a profound shift in the country’s politics as a “third generation” of voters assert themselves.
One exception to the prevailing calm in Iran’s presidential election was the Guardian Council’s rejection of Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei’s candidacies. That is not to say that some notable and unprecedented developments are in fact taking place underneath the surface:
1) This is the first election in which the West seems to be resigned to the fact that regardless of who wins, the election results will have little effect on Iran’s major policies regarding the US, the Palestinian struggle, and the country’s ambitious nuclear program.
The West also appears to have decided that there is little they can do to stir up controversy or foment division among Iranians, as was the case in the 2009 presidential election.
2) The election outcome will likely represent the final blow to the alliance between the bazaar merchants and the religious seminaries of Qom that have dominated Iran’s politics for so long.
In the 2009 election, rural voters rose up by the millions to oppose the political parties that were hoping to topple President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Today’s election will see a similar uprising by rural voters, but this time against the so-called religious aristocracy.
Favored conservative candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said as much during a recent election rally. He declared the end of the “aristocracy…who used to come to the [war] front to take pictures with us and then return to Tehran to show them off while we fight for our very existence in the face of bombs and rockets.”
The decline of the religious aristocracy is further evidenced by the fact that none of the eight presidential candidates – with perhaps the exception of Ali Akbar Velayati – are beholden to either the bazaar or Qom. Notably, as soon as the aristocracy came out in support of Velayati, his numbers in the polls began to decline.
The current crop of candidates, particularly among the conservatives, have their own support bases that have prevented them from stepping down in order to put forward a single candidate and win the election in the first round.
The two conservatives most favored in the polls, Ghalibaf and Saeed Jalili, come from poor, rural backgrounds; their achievements are due to their own hard work and commitment. They owe nothing to Qom’s clergy or the bazaar’s barons.
3) Just as importantly, the election represents the end of the reformist-conservative split in Iranian politics. As one of the candidates, independent Mohsen Rezaee, put it, “Goodbye to the two factions that ruled this country, both the reformist and conservative fronts have fragmented.”
4) A gentleman’s agreement was struck for the first time between the regime and the people to give all the candidates full access to the media, as opposed to previous elections, which were limited to presidential debates only. This helped to absorb any tensions that may have spilled into the streets, allowing them to play out in the country’s media instead.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.