In the weeks leading up to the Presidential election in Iran, it is worth reviewing the ‘legal’ process and instruments applied by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for appointing a new president. The Guardian Council is one of Khamenei’s key tools for purging his rivals in this context.
The Guardian Council’s History
On January 25, 1980, the ayatollahs held the first post-Islamic Revolution Presidential election. At the time, more than 11 politicians, including the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI) leader Massoud Rajavi, were running for the presidency.
The then-Supreme Leader and the Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah Khomeini had already vowed not to meddle in the election. However, fearing the MEK’s growing popularity among youths, Khomeini personally banned Rajavi from the competition to ensure the continuation of his newborn reign.
“Someone who did not vote for the constitution cannot be the president,” Khomeini said addressing Massoud Rajavi, the sole Presidential candidate who had rejected the Islamic Republic’s constitution based on the theory of Velayat-e Faqih, or absolute religious rule.
Khomeini’s direct involvement in the Presidential election, however, drastically tarnished his legitimacy leading him to create a new entity to take this task. In this context, he founded the Guardian Council on July 17, 1980.
The Guardian Council’s Imperative
The Council’s Structure
The council is composed of six faqihs [ayatollahs]—appointed by the Supreme Leader—and six jurists—appointed by the Judiciary Chief. Notably, the Judiciary Chief is the Supreme Leader’s appointee meaning that the council is totally under the Supreme Leader’s thumb.
Therefore, Khomeini planted his loyalists in the Guardian Council institutionalizing absolute power and enabling him to pull the strings. Likewise, His successor Ali Khamenei frequently used this entity to purge his domestic rivals and practice his supremacy.
The Council’s Tasks
According to the Guardian Council’s directive, this entity is tasked with scrutinizing candidates’ competence for different kinds of elections. “Heartfelt and practical loyalty to the Supreme Leader” is the main parameter for approving or rejecting candidates’ competence.
In other words, the council can “legally” remove all opponents from running for the city councils, the Parliament (Majlis), and the Presidency particularly. Voters can practically choose between the Supreme Leader’s loyalists.
In this respect, the apathy in elections clearly declare public hatred and fury against the Supreme Leader and the entire Islamic Republic system. Therefore, high-ranking officials frequently insist on public participation in elections rather than calling on citizens to vote for their favor.
“All regulations that are implemented in the Islamic State of Iran are all valid for the matter of the Supreme Leader and his signature… Imam [Khomeini] approved the constitution meaning, ‘I order you to practice based on this ruling.’ So, it was credited due to his signature… Even if all the people had voted in the favor of [the constitution], but it did not have legal and legitimate credit, as he had told,” Parto-e Now magazine quoted Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, a former member of the Assembly of Experts, as saying on December 28, 2005.
Furthermore, in his book titled Velayat and Hokumat [Supremacy and State], Khamenei wrote, “The Supreme Leader has the right to set the constitution for society. He is the Islamic Imam and has derived the divine rule from the prophet and infallible Imams.”
“The Supreme Leader has blessed the Islamic Republic as a ruling system… Opposition to this system is Haram [forbidden] and is among the great sins. Combating the system’s opponents is an obligation,” Khamenei wrote.
On the other hand, the council is tasked with approving or disapproving the Majlis’s passed bills and plans meaning the Supreme Leader finally decides about the country’s fate, and he is exempted from any investigation or scrutiny.
Khamenei Plans to Appoint His Required Figure as President
In 2009, Khamenei purged all domestic rivals through the Guardian Council. Following weeks of rivalries, the council eventually approved the competence of four candidates, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was later to become the President.
In response to Khamenei’s election sham, hundreds of thousands of people flooded onto the streets. Protests initially began with the slogan of “Where is my vote?” However, the slogan immediately turned into anti-establishment ones.
“Death to Khamenei,” “Death to the oppressor, whether the king or the religious leader,” and “Down with the principle of Velayat-e Faqih [supreme religious rule],” chanted protesters. Meanwhile, enraged protesters set government and security centers ablaze venting their anger over the entire tyranny.
In 2013, the Guardian Council once again removed Khamenei’s rivals, including the head of Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. However, fearing about another round of protests forced him to ignore appointing his expected candidate.
Nonetheless, it seems that Khamenei has intended to appoint his acceptable figure as the President at all costs. In this regard, he previously launched a campaign through his appointees and loyalists in the Majlis and universities calling on the Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi to run for presidency.
To prevent another round of nationwide protests, Khamenei stepped back from appointing Raisi as the president in 2017. However, indicators show that he would no longer ignore his tendency. This intention, of course, received backlash by society and even some of his former agents.
“They easily and formally say that we would engineer the election. They tell some people not to involve in the election, threaten some others, and disapprove the rest candidates. At the end, someone they want will remain,” said Ahmadinejad on April 29. “If you want to appoint some special person, who was time and again rejected by the people, sincerely tell the people that you do not have any right, don’t appoint someone at the expense of people’s vote.”