A slew of military leaders on the list of Iranian presidential candidates is raising concerns about the Islamic republic’s politics being militarised.
Registration for the June 18 election is open from Tuesday to Saturday, during which names will be sent to the Guardian Council, which is controlled by conservatives.
According to the state news agency IRNA, there is “the longest-ever list (of potential candidates) in a presidential election with a military background”
According to Ahmad Zeidabadi, an independent journalist in Tehran, the appearance of candidates with military backgrounds “is not new”
However, none of them served in the military during their campaigns, according to Habib Torkashvand, a journalist with the Fars news agency, which is loyal to Iran’s ultra-conservatives.
This time around, candidates include former oil minister Admiral Rostam Ghasemi, an economic affairs aide to the head of the Guards’ elite Al-Quds force, and Saeed Mohammad, an assistant to Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami.
Two members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps — parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and his predecessor Ali Larijani — have both run for president in the past.
So has Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary general of the Supreme National Security Council.
The three have been touted as possible candidates for this year’s race too, although they have yet to declare their intentions.
– ‘No chance of militarisation’ –
The field also includes Ezzatollah Zarghami, a former Guards member, and General Hossein Dehqan, who was defence minister in outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s first government.
The moderate daily Jomhouri-e Eslami has cautioned that the appointment of a “military figure to head the government” may have “negative consequences” for the region.
And Ali Motahari, a former reformist lawmaker who has declared his candidacy, has said that the long struggles to end military rule in Turkey and Pakistan should act as a message.
General Dehqan, on the other hand, has denied any possibility that “military figures would bring in martial law or restrict freedoms”
“In Iran, there’s no chance of militarisation of the state,” said Dehqan, who is also an advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
– No military ‘interference’ –
The Islamic republic’s late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, repeatedly urged the military “not to interfere in politics”.
But under his successor Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guard Corps has expanded its economic and political influence to such an extent that analysts regard it as a state within a state.
The military’s influence on Iranian diplomacy has been at the centre of a furore in recent weeks after an audio leak in which Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif complained of having “sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy”.
Zarif expressed disappointment that his remarks had been leaked.
Shortly after, General Mohsen Rezai, a former leader of the elite Republican Guards and former presidential candidate, slammed Zarif’s announcement of his candidacy.
Salami, the head of the Revolutionary Guards, has since stated that only “personal initiative” inspired every member to run for office, and that his organisation did not advise members on how to vote.
The Guardian Council electoral body’s spokesperson, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodai, told AFP that military personnel are not barred from running for office under Iranian rule.
However, it prohibits military “interference” such as announcing a candidate or altering the results of a poll.