He played a major role when about 5,000 political prisoners were executed in Iran in the late 1980s. Ebrahim Raisi, 61, a hardline conservative, is likely to be elected Iran’s next president on Friday.
Although the president of Iran is not the country’s supreme leader, a possible presidential election is bad news for those who want reforms in the country.
With Raisi as president, democratic change in Iran will stop.
Iranian-Canadian journalist and writer Nezaila Fathi, who was formerly an Iranian correspondent for the New York Times and is now affiliated with the think tank The Middle East Institute, told VG.
For decades, Raisi played a leading role in suppressing those who sought change from the clerical government and the country’s religious elite.
It also happened when he sat on the so-called “death committee” of four men that decided in 1988 to execute about 5,000 opposition members. That is why he was accused of crimes against humanity.
In the past two years, he has done his part in blocking reforms as Iran’s chief justice.
– Reforms are not supported. It’s on the conservative side. For those who want a change toward a life more reminiscent of what we have in the West, that’s bad news, says Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Foreign Policy (NUPI), Ludgaard’s ambassador to VG.
– We should probably expect a tightening, compared to the current government, adds the Iranian expert.
During the time when Raisi was chief of the judiciary, the repression of opposition figures in Iran intensified. The same is true of human rights abuses, according to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Fathi said he was responsible for the imprisonment and execution of dissidents and protesters.
Among other things, Raisi arranged for a man to be sentenced to death for drinking alcohol. Something that hasn’t happened in decades.
Professor Gary Sick, of Columbia University in New York, was a former White House adviser responsible for the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf. He knows Iran well, and tells VG that one must see Raisi’s dark past in light of the system in which he operates.
We cannot forget that his actions were always the result of his following higher orders in the system. Therefore, I believe that his actions as president will be more about the desires of the Supreme Leader (Journal of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.), than about his past.
On Friday, Iranians go to the polls. All indications point to a major election.
This happens after the country’s so-called Guardian Council approved only seven out of about 600 candidates who wanted to run for the elections (two of whom withdrew on Thursday). None of those approved by the powerful council are notable reformists, or allies of the current president, the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani.
– That Raisi was the only one with a base of supporters approved to run for elections, which indicates that the regime did not accept any risk of not electing its “candidate” this time, Nazila Fathi believes.
In 2017, Raisi apparently lost the election to Rouhani. The Iranian people preferred the moderate candidate over the very conservative.
– This time, I think there is still a long way to go until the Guardian Council appoints the president. Ludgard’s ambassador says it wasn’t as clear-cut as it used to be.
A step towards the top
Many believe that winning the presidential election is a step towards the real throne of power for a president. This is the position of the “Supreme Commander”. A role that 82-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held since 1989.
– The Guardian Council seems to favor low participation to ensure a major win. Fathi explains that this is because Khamenei and the regime are planning who will take over the position of supreme leader.
Supported by Professor Gary Seck.
– Khamenei himself was a cleric who was elected president before assuming his current position. It is not excluded that he wants an even path to the top for my boss. And since the supreme leader is practically elected by a committee, it may be useful to be able to claim that Raisi has demonstrated the ability to garner support at the national level, even if it happened in an apparently tampered election, says the professor. .
The Supreme Leader is the head of state, religious leader, and commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces. He controls the judiciary, defense, security, intelligence and the media.
The president is the head of government and has supreme executive power, but he does not control the military, for example.
Ambassador Ludgaard explains that the Iranian regime is unique in that there are several centers of power that pull the ropes between them: the Supreme Leader, the President, the National Assembly, the Guardian Council, and not least the Revolutionary Guards.
– They keep each other in check somehow. This means that there is little room for maneuver for the president. Others set limits on what he can do.
Most importantly, sanctions relief
Concluding the nuclear deal that Donald Trump withdrew the United States from, but which Joe Biden wants to renegotiate, will be important no matter who the president is.
This could lead to sanctions relief, which is seen as the most important thing for Iran going forward.
Iranians have suffered greatly from the coronavirus pandemic, global isolation, US sanctions, and spiraling inflation. So the mood among voters seems apathetic. The large and vibrant capital, Tehran, was eerily quiet during the latter part of the election campaign.
The NTB wrote that the large, committed crowds seen during the previous elections were absent.
Boycott the elections
Few Iranians believe that the elections will change the sense of crisis. They have no confidence that the new government will make their lives better. Many feel the election has already been decided and say they plan to boycott it.
Sverre Lodgaard thinks it could be a concern for the system if it ends up with an astonishingly low turnout. Nadila Fathi believes that this is a price the regime is willing to pay to elect its candidate.
– They have already consolidated their power in Parliament. Now their control of the overall power is even stronger. It says they will continue to crack down on anyone who expresses dissenting opinions.
On the streets of Tehran, the AP news agency meets some of those who lost faith in the elections.
– I followed the presidential debate, but I couldn’t see that any of the candidates showed that they had any good solutions to our problems, says 30-year-old Masoumeh Iftikhari.
She is pregnant and worried about what the future holds. A woman walks down the shopping street and points out that the prices of children’s clothing are rising.
– The price level disappoints me, and I can’t say which filter is my favourite. It concludes that at the moment there is no one.
We’re so sorry, so sorry
29-year-old Sasan Ghafuri studied to become a lab technician, but had to start selling clothes at a mall in Tehran instead.
He’s exhausted by long work days and disillusioned with politicians who don’t get things done.
– I come here at 9 am and work to Kuala Lumpur. 21-22 day by day. When I have no time left to enjoy or continue my education so that I can achieve my dreams, what is the meaning of life then?
Those who have put their faith in my boss say they desperately need economic change. Perhaps they saw their savings evaporate after the collapse of the national currency, the regal.
The government under Rouhani was disappointing. They were incompetent. I have a job myself and do well, but I see what most people struggle with — every day, says 37-year-old accountant Ali Momeni.
So he will vote for Raisi, who hopes to improve the country’s economic situation.
Regardless of the outcome of the elections, many only hope that Iran will become a “normal” country, without sanctions, fear of war, and a sense of siege.
– We’re sorry, very sorry. We do not deserve this difficult, careless and horrific life, says 29-year-old accountant Fatima Rakabi.