Iran: Observers Fear Militarization Of Politics
By Bill Samii
The possibility that an individual connected with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) could be elected as Iran's next president is causing some consternation in Iranian political circles. National police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former IRGC commander, announced in Tehran on 11 April that he will run in the 17 June elections.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accepted 43-year-old Qalibaf's resignation on 5 April, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Before succeeding Brigadier General Hedayat Lotfian as police chief in June 2000, Qalibaf was commander of the IRGC Air Force. Another prospective candidate with a serious background in the IRGC is Mohsen Rezai, who commanded the corps for 16 years.
Qalibaf's plan to be a candidate in the presidential election indicates the militarization of the political process, several articles in the 4 April issue of "Eqbal" newspaper suggest. "Eqbal" and "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 4 April that younger conservatives associated with the Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) and the Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami) support Qalibaf.
Interestingly, there are allegations that another former IRGC official and current presidential candidate, Ali Larijani, is supported by the military. The Baztab website reported on 17 March that a clerical official in the IRGC has a high position in the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, the mainstream conservative body that backs Larijani.
The Developers themselves have not been very forthcoming on their choice. A recent Developers press conference turned out to be something of a bust, "Etemad" and "Eqbal" newspapers reported on 5 April. The many reporters at this event expected to learn something about the conservative organization's preferences in the upcoming presidential election, but Developers' spokesman Mehdi Chamran, who is a member of the Tehran municipal council, was not very specific. Previously, Ali Larijani appeared to be their favorite, but Chamran said a choice has not been made yet and added, "We support all those who adhere to fundamentalist thinking." He continued: "If they [the candidates] select a particular candidate among themselves, we will support their choice. We do not wish to act as a council that selects the candidate. We want the people to make the final choice." He said the Developers were created at a stage when the fundamentalists were "in a state of despair and uncertainty." Chamran described his organization as "an ideology and an intellectual movement."
Reformist politician Mustafa Tajzadeh wrote in "Eqbal" on 4 April that if Larijani or Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad wins the election, a militarized administration will emerge and it will try to reassert the revolutionary and religious values that existed in the early years of the revolution. Tajzadeh compared this to prewar Germany and the Nazi Party's actions.
Reformist presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said in a late March meeting with officials from his election headquarters that in recent years he has warned of the military's involvement in political affairs, the daily "Etemad" reported on 3 April. "[I] have repeatedly condemned it and have openly criticized them," he said. Karrubi said it is a mistake to ignore the actions of the IRGC, the Basij, the Guardians Council, the judiciary, the Special Court for the Clergy, and agencies affiliated with the supreme leader. Karrubi said his attitude toward these institutions includes "strong reactions" when he was not in office and a "respectful but firm stance" when he was speaker of parliament. "I am confident that if people elect me I will solve many of the existing problems by making use of the same methods," he said.
Qalibaf is an interesting candidate for president. "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 4 April that under his command the previously unpopular police force earned a much better reputation. He created the 110 rapid-reaction system (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 April 2002, and http://www.police.ir/), which made the force operate more efficiently, and he also eliminated the influence of political factions in the police.
Yet Qalibaf's respect for civilian leadership of the government is limited, He is one of the 24 IRGC commanders who in July 1999 sent a letter to President Mohammad Khatami warning that if he did not act to quell student unrest, they would not stand by idly and would take matters into their own hands (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999).
Qalibaf is not the only person the young conservatives are considering as a presidential candidate. Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai have their backers. If the young conservatives do not select Qalibaf, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported then he could be tapped as a conservative victor's interior minister.
Bill Samii is a regional analysis coordinator with RFE/RL Online and editor of the "RFE/RL Iran Report." He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge. His research articles have appeared in the "Middle East Journal," "Middle East Policy," and the "Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal." He has contributed to several books about the Middle East.
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