The Observer view on Iran’s rigged presidential election | Observer editorial

It is not only Iranians who will suffer if a hardliner wins, it could have profound consequences for world peace

Iran’s beleaguered voters do not have much of a choice in this Friday’s presidential election. The regime, dominated by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a fiercely anti-western conservative, has cynically manipulated the contest to ensure that a like-minded hardliner, most probably Ebrahim Raisi, head of the judiciary, wins.

While the result is hardly a cliff-hanger, its impact may nonetheless be far-reaching – in Iran and internationally. The possibly negative consequences for talks on curbing Iran’s nuclear programme, for peaceful relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the west, for the wars in Syria and Yemen, for the geopolitical balance and for Iran’s own citizens are alarming.

Iranians have never been well served by the fundamentalists who hijacked the 1979 Islamic revolution. This extraordinary country, rich in human talent, culture, history and resources, is woefully misgoverned. Yet matters have gone from bad to worse since the last presidential poll in 2017, thanks mainly to incompetent, corrupt leadership and American malevolence.

Efforts by Hassan Rouhani, the current centrist president, to improve ties with the west were crucially undermined in 2018 when Donald Trump reneged on the UN-approved nuclear deal with Tehran and imposed punitive sanctions. This breakdown emboldened hardliners who already controlled key ministries and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Ensuing, severe economic problems, and accompanying social unrest, were met by deadly crackdowns on protesters and civil society activists, notably in 2019; by increased executions and imprisonment of political opponents; and by rising anti-western antagonism, exemplified by Raisi’s inhumane treatment of innocent dual nationals such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

All this has had an understandably chilling effect on democratic engagement, in particular among younger Iranians who despair of positive change. Election turnout is predicted to fall below 40% as social media posts urge a boycott under the hashtag “No Way I Vote”. Low participation would hurt regime credibility, but hardliners will lose no sleep over that.

By fixing the election, Khamenei, supreme leader since 1989 and now aged 82, has moved closer to achieving his religiously and ideologically defined ideal of a devout “Islamic society” cleansed of secular and western taints. He aims to project Iran as a model for Muslim-majority countries around the world. Aides speak of a need to “purify the revolution”.

This old man’s dreams are dangerous in the extreme. If his protege Raisi wins, he is expected to extend Khamenei’s policy of packing the government with supporters from the IRGC and Basij paramilitaries. Hopes of domestic reform and a new start with Europe and Saudi Arabia, encouraged by recent informal contacts, may be dashed. Instead, Tehran will probably move closer to China and Russia.

In grave jeopardy, too, will be indirect negotiations with the US on reviving the nuclear deal, which approach a climax in Vienna this week. Washington has offered a partial lifting of sanctions in return for renewed Iranian compliance. But a last-minute success for Rouhani would not suit many hardliners. Like Israeli hawks, they would be happy if the talks collapsed.

Speaking of which, the much-anticipated defenestration this week of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the formation of a new government in Jerusalem will do little to reduce tensions. Whoever is in charge, Israel remains committed to a semi-covert shadow war, evidenced by its recent attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

If victorious on Friday, Iran’s hardliners can also be expected to continue, and may crank up, pressure on Israel via proxies in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon. Buoyed by success, they could incite Hamas to resume hostilities, spark more trouble in the Gulf or rekindle the smouldering conflict in Yemen. Recent Shia militia drone attacks on US forces in Iraq point to another area of possible escalation.

Perhaps such worries are overblown. Let’s hope so. Yet this election travesty has again demonstrated an uncomfortable truth: for all the hostility directed at it from abroad, Iran remains its own worst enemy.

Contributor

Observer editorial

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Observer view on Donald Trump and the murder of Iran’s leading nuclear scientist | Observer editorial
As the president lashes out wilfully during his last days in office, it seems likely that he at least gave the nod to this killing

Observer editorial

29, Nov, 2020 @6:15 AM

Article image
The Observer view on Britain’s ineptitude at securing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release | Observer editorial
The government must pay its £400m debt to Iran and ensure her freedom above all else

Observer editorial

02, May, 2021 @5:15 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on Iran and sanctions: the EU stands firm | Editorial
Editorial: The nuclear deal was never perfect. But the Trump administration’s determination to derail it could have terrible consequences

Editorial

07, Aug, 2018 @5:35 PM

Article image
Hawks in Iran and Israel agree: Biden’s bid to salvage nuclear deal must not succeed
With elections looming in both states, and hardliners out to ensure the collapse of the 2015 deal, time is running short for the US president to save it

Simon Tisdall

21, Feb, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
The Observer view on the ‘cessation of hostilities’ in Yemen | Observer editorial
Donald Trump’s intervention in the Yemen war would be welcome if it didn’t seem so cynical and ill-judged

Observer editorial

04, Nov, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Observer view on the west’s reluctance to face up to Riyadh | Observer editorial
The presumed murder of Jamal Khashoggi has exposed the true nature of Mohammed bin Salman’s repressive dictatorship

Observer editorial

13, Oct, 2018 @5:27 PM

Article image
Our next PM needs to become an Iran expert. And fast | Alistair Burt
We must understand the Gulf state’s point of view instead of rushing into conflict

Alistair Burt

20, Jul, 2019 @8:00 PM

Article image
The Observer view on what Iran’s new president means for the Middle East | Observer editorial
Ebrahim Raisi is another hardliner, but western leaders must engage with him to cool the tensions threatening the region

Observer editorial

08, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Observer view: Tehran’s power is spreading, and with it comes violence | Observer editorial
With the embattled prime minister set to step down, the tide appears to be turning against Iran’s influence

Observer editorial

01, Dec, 2019 @7:03 AM

Article image
The tricky triangle of Iran, Russia and Israel
On the complex regional chess board, Iran wants better relations with Moscow even as the Russians have extended their intelligence co-operation with Israel in Syria

Gareth Smyth for Tehran Bureau

25, Apr, 2016 @12:47 PM