With Iranian elections set to take place in June, it is clear that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s time as president of the Islamic Republic is coming to an end.
But one thing is already clear: An election in Iran will not bring about any sort of change, but rather will be the continuation of the power struggle between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Ayatollah Khamenei, despite helping Ahmadinejad in the much disputed 2009 election, has already declared that the coming elections will be free and fair — and that no one is to talk about them or question them so that they do not "serve the desire of the enemy.” These words were uttered on the same day that one of Khamenei’s clerical representatives told the Revolutionary Guard, the nation’s elite military force, to “engineer” the elections.
Not exactly reassuring words for a “free and fair” election, although not much is to be expected seeing that the Islamic republic does not tolerate criticism regarding its election process. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two opposition leaders who alleged that the 2009 election was rigged, were put under house arrest.
Although Khamenei had supported Ahmadinejad and the two had culminated a special relationship initially during latter’s first presidential victory, it wasn’t long before the two became estranged, and now, the supreme leader has full intentions of favoring a candidate who will prove to be loyal, unlike Ahmadinejad. At the same time, however, he is calling for a competitive atmosphere.
Ahmadinejad is also expected to put up someone from his own camp for the upcoming election in order to preserve his power. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close confidant of Ahmadinejad’s as well as Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, is seen as a likely candidate by many. Mashaei felt backlash from conservatives last year as Khamenei supporters believed he was gaining too much influence, a threat to them, as he is a known opponent of the involvement of clerics in politics.
However, Mohammad Dehghan, member of the parliament’s executive board, has criticized Ahmadinejad’s support for Mashaei, saying that he is pursuing a power reshuffle similar to that of Putin/Medvedev.
"Ahmadinejad should know that Iran is not Russia and he is not Putin. Ahmadinejad's Medvedev [a reference to Mashaei] has no position among the public opinion and he will not have any position in future,” he said.
Ahmadinejad has also been working towards eliminating all other opposition, including parliamentary Ali Larijani. Earlier in February, Ahmadinejad revealed a secretly-filmed tape showing Larijani’s brother, Fazel, using his brother’s influence for financial gain in a conversation with Saeed Mortazavi who is the caretaker of the country’s social welfare organization.
Come June, it is clear that the election will be less about the new candidates and more likely to show Khamenei and Ahmadinejad butt heads as they struggle to retain their respective power.