Guarded elections: Iran's old guard limits presidential choices

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The Iranian Guardian Council, which screens all prospective presidential candidates, has barred from the elections scheduled for June 14 two important possible competitors, one of them a father of the 1979 revolution.

At one end of the spectrum, analysts see the Iranian elections, although they are certainly not democratic, as nonetheless constituting vigorous competitions of different perspectives on the future of the country among different political personalities. The other end sees them as a meaningless exercise fully dominated by old, conservative, religious figures and national security elements.

A decision of the Guardian Council Tuesday falls clearly on the second, darker end of the spectrum. That body, dominated by clerics under the control of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 73, and close to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, ruled out all but eight of the some 700 candidates for the presidency, narrowing the field down to an undistinguished group with no popular base. One notable elimination was that of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and one of the associates of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini who made the original 1979 Iranian revolution against the regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Another candidate ruled out by the Guardian Council was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, considered the choice of current Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to succeed him. Given Mr. Ahmadinejad's reputation the qualifications of Mr. Mashaei to rule would certainly be in question, but the fact remains that, until Tuesday's Guardian Council decision, he was one of the more prominent candidates.

Whatever the likely attitude of any of the Iranian presidential candidates toward the United States, the fact is that, in general, Iran, American relations with Iran and Iran's relations with its neighbors in the region would have had better prospects if a political situation as close to democracy as possible prevailed in its elections. Whether Mr. Rafsanjani would have won or not, he has at least stayed in touch with the United States over the years.

Ayatollah Khamenei's decision to "X" him, Mr. Mashaei and other candidates out of the running before the elections renders the June 14 exercise close to meaningless. That perception of it may suit the strategy of an old clergyman trying to cling to power in a modern world, but it is to the long-term benefit of neither the Iranians themselves nor other countries seeking to have useful relations with Iran, unless it leads, as it may eventually, to a new revolution in Iran.

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