In a significant political development in Iran, state media has announced that the Guardian Council disqualified former President Hassan Rouhani from running for the Assembly of Experts. Under the Iranian constitution, the role of the Assembly of Experts includes overseeing the Supreme Leader's activities and selecting his successor. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, aged 84, has been the Supreme Leader since 1989.
Rouhani's disqualification is noteworthy given his extensive service to the regime, including two presidential terms, long-standing membership in the Assembly of Experts, a Majlis deputy for five terms, and chairman of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) . Along with former President Hassan Rouhani, former Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi was also disqualified from running in the upcoming elections by the Guardian Council. The Majlis (290-member parliament)) and the Assembly of Experts (88 members) elections are to be held on 1 March 2024. Rouhani has been a member of the Assembly of Experts since 2000.
According to the Iranian constitution, the Guardian Council, responsible for vetting election candidates, consists of twelve members. Six theologians are appointed directly by the Supreme Leader, and six jurists are appointed by the head of the judiciary, who is, in turn, appointed by the Supreme Leader. This council plays a crucial role in determining the eligibility of candidates for electoral participation.
The Iranian regime has a history of using dubious technical justifications to disqualify political adversaries from elections. This practice has previously affected former presidents like Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Still, the exclusion of Hassan Rouhani further exemplifies the regime's growing boldness in controlling electoral participation to secure its survival.
In response to his disqualification from running for reelection to the Assembly of Experts, former President Hassan Rouhani criticized the decision as "politically motivated" and as a move that limits the people's participation in elections. “The minority that rules officially and publicly wants to reduce people’s participation in elections.”. He expressed concern over the Guardian Council's exclusion of not only himself but also "thousands" of other candidates for parliamentary elections. Rouhani encouraged Iranians to still participate in the elections and cast a "protest vote," despite his criticism of the decision as "politically motivated" and reflective of a "totalitarian minority" ruling approach.
Iran's former vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri criticized the disqualification, questioning the logic behind barring high-ranking officials and former presidents from elections. Iran's former vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri criticized the disqualification, questioning the logic behind barring high-ranking officials and former presidents from elections. “How can someone be disqualified who has been the secretary and chairman of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) for many years and has been present for several terms in the assembly of leadership experts and the Islamic Council, and who received 24m votes from the people six years ago”.
The disqualification of Hassan Rouhani signifies the Iranian regime's tightening grip on power. It reflects a strategic shift in its international relations, distancing from the West and moving towards more robust ties with Turkey, Russia, and China.
This move concurs with an increase in propaganda campaigns to participate in the upcoming elections, including state media extensive coverage of Khamenei's speeches and smearing attacks in Khamenei's mouthpiece "Kayhan" against Rouhani and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). These actions suggest the regime's apprehension about growing domestic unrest and a potential nationwide boycott, overshadowing concerns of foreign invasion.
Amidst the backdrop of discussions about Supreme Leader Khamenei's succession and the Assembly of Experts' role in electing his successor, the disqualification of Hassan Rouhani has become even more significant. This move, reflecting a tightening of control within Iran's regime, could be seen as a strategic effort to shape the future leadership of the country and ensure alignment with the current regime's ideologies and international alliances.
The intensity of nationwide billboards, threatening speeches by Supreme Leader Khamenei and senior clerics, JCPOA, and frequent warning state media articles betray the regime's awareness of an impending nationwide boycott, likely surpassing those in 2020 and 2021, further eroding its legitimacy.
An opinion poll by a government agency predicts a low voter turnout in the upcoming general elections, with only 15% in Tehran city and 22% in Tehran province. Nationally, the turnout is expected to be around 30%, a decrease from previous forecasts of 36%. Reasons for not voting include perceptions of an ineffective parliament, systemic corruption, and disillusionment with the country's future. Among those intending to vote, 36% look to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for guidance, while 30% follow current President Ebrahim Raisi.
Khamenei and the regime officials know they face no threat of foreign invasion. Their real fear lies in ongoing domestic unrest. Thus, the decision to disqualify Rouhani also reflects an effort by the regime to control political narratives and maintain a firm grip on power, especially in the face of potential domestic unrest and challenges to its survivability.