Iran's president calls on Ayatollah Khamenei to intervene in presidential list

Politicians across the political spectrum in Iran criticise Guardian Council's slate of candidates

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council In Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY/File Photo
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Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said that he had sent a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei asking for him to reconsider the Guardian Council's approved list of presidential candidates.

“Elections are a symbol of freedom and a symbol of the awareness of the people. God forbid the day comes when the people feel we don't care about them,” Mr Rouhani said.

On Tuesday Iran's Guardian Council approved a list of seven candidates, nearly all hardliners, for the country's June 18 elections. The release of the list caused near immediate resistance from reformists and conservatives alike and led to calls on Mr Khamenei to intervene and broaden the political landscape.

Concerns over the presidential list are largely tied to fears of low voter turnout, which would affect the legitimacy of any incoming administration. Mr Rouhani went on to say on live television that the council had "forgotten that the Islamic republic's legitimacy is guaranteed by people's votes. Elections guarantee the continuation of the legitimacy of the system. The legitimacy of the system depends on the presence of the people at the ballot box in the elections".

Mr Khamenei has been known to use voter turnout as a way to strengthen the government's position with the people and low voter turnout would be a blow. Historically, however, higher voter turnout has largely led to reformist executive branches rather than hardline ones.

Despite the highly controlled elections and the preapproved list of candidates, Iran's elections work only under the pretence of being free and fair. If Mr Khamenei does not intervene, Reza Marashi, an Iran anaylst and former US state department employee, said it "will be a sign that they've abandoned the pretence altogether".

Only a week before the announcement 230 political activists and dissidents called for a boycott of the June elections calling them a formality.

The apathy and dissatisfaction is felt not only by activists but by the Iranian electorate as a whole. According to polling in Iran, less than 50 per cent of Iranians will be voting, giving credence to the warnings by those such as Mr Rouhani that a slate of only hardliners and conservatives could drive those numbers even lower. Iranians took to social media to express their frustrations. One user on Twitter asked why bother to even hold elections, suggesting it would be better to go straight to the inauguration.

Others began circulating memes joking that the election is already a done deal for front-runner and Iran’s chief justice, Ebrahim Raisi.

Meme circulating on social media over Ebrahim Raisi's uncontested election
Meme circulating on social media over Ebrahim Raisi's uncontested election

Mr Raisi, for his part, spoke out against the Guardian Council's list, joining other conservatives in calling for a broader range of political views to be included in the elections. In another surprising turn of events a member of the Guardian Council spoke out, calling the list indefensible.

It is not clear when or if Mr Khamenei will intervene but with reformist and hardline politicians speaking out against the council his decision could come sooner rather than later.