With such a history, Ahmadinejad registering his candidacy for the May 19 presidential election rendered many headaches amongst the regime’s senior ranks. This was in complete insubordination, if you will, to orders issued by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who on December 26 publicly called on Ahmadinejad to refrain from participating in these polls.

The emergence of Ahmadinejad was also a major element in disrupting any hope for unity amongst the ruling theocratic faction to rally behind a single candidate in this election.

A look at the history of this faction is necessary to gain a better understanding of the new developments’ importance.

Firstly, there are no such entities as “political parties” in today’s Iran. Due to the intense theocracy imposed on the Iranian population, and the closed nature of this religious dictatorship, the ruling regime in Tehran even lacks any farcical political parties.

However, on the verge of each “election” (being a rivalry between current and former security and intelligence officials), small groups describing themselves as fronts, coalitions or associations, form around senior officials. The lower files are all members of the regime’s security apparatus or Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commanders.

In 2005 Khamenei used the IRGC leverage to organize, or engineer, the presidential election to have a previously unknown individual, Ahmadinejad, selected as president. Around a dozen sporadic groups of Khamenei’s camp rallied behind his candidate and naming their alliance the Osul-Garayan, more commonly known as the ‘principalists.’

During his first term, Ahmadinejad’s relationship with Khamenei could be described as a puppet with his master.

Following the 2009 uprisings, however, Ahmadinejad realized how Khamenei’s position had significantly weakened and thus demanded more authority, seeking specifically to sack his minister of intelligence (a post traditionally appointed by the Supreme Leader no matter who the president is).

When his request was turned down, Ahmadinejad remained at home for 11 days (April 23 – May 4, 2011) and literally refused to show up for work at the presidential compound.

This turn of events spelled the end of any hope of unity amongst the ‘principalists’ and as a result, the Khamenei camp was unable to agree on a single candidate for the 2013 presidential election. To this end, Hassan Rouhani became president.

Four years later, as instructed by Khamenei, groups in his camp formed a new alliance dubbed the Popular Front of Islamic Revolutionary Forces, or Jamna, as known inside Iran. The intention was to rally behind the candidacy of a hardline cleric by the name of Ebrahim Raisi to prove he enjoys the necessary legitimacy inside the regime’s establishment.

However, after Raisi announced his candidacy these groups and individuals turned their back and refused to express any support for the so-called Jamna coalition.

Saeed Jalili, the former leading nuclear negotiator, enjoying the support of a group known as the “Perseverance Front,” went silent and refused any support.

Members of the ‘Motalefe Party’ (comprised of a group of pro-Khamenei bazaar merchants who for years were in charge of torture chambers in Tehran and Karaj, east of the capital) went their own way and placed forward their own independent candidate.

Another group by the name of ‘Rahpuyan’, consisting of plainclothes agents known for their role in attacking protesters and demonstrators, also announced their own candidate.

Finally, Ahmadinejad hammered the final nail in the coffin by registering his candidacy. The ruling faction can confidently be described as fragmented yet again.

Of course, this series of events cannot impact the election outcome that Khamenei has blueprinted. As always, he will be using the IRGC and resorting to widespread vote fraud to have his desired candidate selected as president.

However, what has taken place in Iran’s elections politics unveiled a fundamentalist weakness in this theocracy: Khamenei is facing major crises resulting from the deep fragmentation amongst the ruling minority. This is one of the most important reasons why he is considering Raisi, an individual with no record in political activities, as his establishment’s next president. In fact, has for the 20 years Raisi been actively involved in sending people to the gallows and was one of the highest ranking regime officials involved in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners.


Mohammad Amin is an analyst in Iranian affairs and fellow at the Paris-based Middle East Research Foundation. He tweets at @economieIran


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