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Iran Presidential election: Any difference among moderate, reformist, conservative…?

Taking aim at Hassan Rohani: The reformist president of Iran faces a tough re-election

Face-off: Politician versus religious legal personalities

Hardliners are cracking down on social media

APPLICATIONS for the ticklish job of president of Iran opened this week, with more than 100 hopefuls vying to replace the incumbent, Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate, at the election on May 19th. (They were 1,300 candidates a couple days ago, including former President Najad)

The religious conservatives who loom so large in Iran are hoping they can unite around a single candidate, overcoming the divisions that doomed their prospects in 2013 and allowed Mr Rohani to win.

Their preferred man is Ebrahim Raeisi, the newly appointed head of one of Iran’s most important and best-endowed shrines, Imam Reza in Mashhad. In addition to income from the shrine’s holdings, which include car factories, he is a protégé of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But to Mr Raeisi’s probable consternation, on April 12th a divisive ultra-conservative former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also entered the race, despite orders from Mr Khamenei not to stand. This makes it more likely that the hardliners will again see their vote split.

Still, the anti-Iranian rhetoric of Donald Trump, America’s president, is a big bonus for the anti-reformists, should they come together.

After a nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers was concluded in 2015, Mr Rohani’s re-election had seemed assured. But the promised fruits from the lifting of UN sanctions (in return for Iran curbing its nuclear programme) have been slow to arrive. Far from encouraging investment in Iran, America has tightened some sanctions, and continues to prevent Iran from trading in dollars.

With the army, Revolutionary Guards, judiciary and state television in their hands, as well as the power to approve candidates (which the Guardians Council they dominate has yet to do for the coming election), Mr Khamenei’s hardliners already wield huge power. They are now targeting social media, where pro-Rohani reformists have until now mostly operated freely.

Last month masked goons arrested 12 administrators of popular social-media news channels.

But the hardliners’ task is proving daunting.

First in their sights is a phone app, Telegram, that enables encrypted messaging between users, and also offers uncensored news channels. It claims 20m Iranian users and thousands of Persian-language channels, some claiming over a million subscribers.

Last year it helped the reformists get out the vote in parliamentary elections. Confounding the hardliners’ efforts to disqualify well-known reformist candidates, voters went to the polls armed with “lists of hope” of the lesser-knowns on their phones, and unseated the staunchest conservatives, some of Mr Khamenei’s relatives among them.

No sooner had Mr Raeisi’s candidacy been announced than they began tarnishing his squeaky-clean image with claims that, as a 28-year-old prosecutor, he had sentenced hundreds of leftist political prisoners to death.

Under a more reactionary government, censors might have banned Telegram.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline former president, simply switched off the mobile network when protesters contested his 2009 re-election, and restricted internet bandwidth to such an extent that it took hours to access a page. Facebook and Twitter were banned.

But Mr Rohani’s government has made censorship harder. It has boosted bandwidth a hundredfold, compared with 2009. And it has expanded mobile coverage from 39% to 99% of Iran, including to 27,000 villages which the hardliners hitherto considered strongholds.

So Mr Rohani continues to get his message out. Recent signs of mild economic improvement may have given his continued support for Western engagement a boost, too. The hardliners will not have the campaign all their own way.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Taking aim at the president”
Note: Hezbollah in Lebanon is usually affected to some degree by these elections, even though it is directly linked to Khamenei

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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