United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Campaign Posters Capture Rivalries

Garrett Nada

            In flashy campaign art, Iran’s six presidential candidates are pulling at public heartstrings and playing on haunting moments in Iranian history to rally votes. Posters are now plastered across billboards, fences, office blocks and the sides of cars as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus accounts—some of which are actually banned in Iran. Each candidate has his own buzzwords drawing on his past as a war hero, top adviser to the supreme leader, moderate cleric or peace negotiator. 

      Jalili is a war veteran who lost a leg fighting Iraq in the 1980s—and his posters ooze with sacrifice and nationalism. His slogan, “Resistance is the key to success,” draws on imagery from a war that ended a quarter century ago but still influences politics. This poster encourages Iranians to fulfill their national duty to vote while recalling their past duty to defend the country. A hardliner, Jalili has run the most ideological campaign of the six candidates. He is currently secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. Jalili accuses other candidates of being too soft on national security issues.
      Qalibaf is a “man of action”― and his posters gush with images of him on the job. Websites and blogs by the “Lovers of Qalibaf” depict the Tehran mayor overseeing the building of bridges, highways and parks to illustrate his slogan: “Jihadi management versus capitalism.” A pragmatic conservative, Qalibaf balances his image as a manager with security credentials. Four pictures on the left are from his days as a Revolutionary Guard on the Iran-Iraq war front.
      Velayati is the ultimate revolutionary insider ― and his posters flaunt his love-fest with Iran’s ruling clerics. His campaign boasts that the supreme leader “is not alone” in confronting Iran’s challenges. In his video, entitled “My Iran, Oh Fatherland,” Velayati cries as he watches old television footage of Iranians wailing and beating their chests after the death of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. A hardliner, Velayati served as foreign minister from 1989 to 1997 and was then named Khamenei’s chief foreign policy adviser.
      Rouhani is the only cleric in the race—and his campaign pushes an aura of piety. “A man of faith has come,” this poster pledges. The lone reformist candidate has run on a platform to “replace extremism with moderation.” He promises a “government of prudence and hope” that will work with both conservatives and reformists. But Rouhani also has a unique blend of other assets. He was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and the top nuclear negotiator from 1989 to 2005.
      Rezaei is the former Revolutionary Guards Commander—and his posters mix muscle with mystery. Rezaei’s slogan is “social ethics,” and his campaign centers around themes of the “people’s pain,” especially on the economy. On social media, his videos show him meeting with workers and small shopkeepers in outlying provinces. Rezaei has tried to stake out an independent position by criticizing both the reformist and hardliner camps.
      Gharazi is a blunt and outspoken independent ― and his posters exude frustration with Iran’s economic crisis. His slogan is “government against inflation.” Gharazi accuses both reformists and hardline “principlists” of losing control of the economy, claiming that the governments has its “hands in the pocket of the poor” while prices and unemployment increase. Gharazi’s video flaunts his role building the Revolutionary Guards in the 1980s, while his website and Twitter account parade pictures of him as a governor and oil minister.

Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant in the Center for Conflict Management at the United States Institute of Peace.


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Old War Haunts New Election

By Garrett Nada and Helia Ighani

            A quarter century later, the Iran-Iraq War looms over Iran’s presidential election as if it happened yesterday. All six candidates participated in the grizzliest modern Middle East conflict as fighters, commanders or officials. Over the past month, the campaign has evolved into a feisty competition over who sacrificed and served the most in the eight-year war.
            A leading candidate lost a leg. Another candidate commanded the Revolutionary Guards. A third liberated an oil-rich frontline city. A fourth brokered the dramatic ceasefire.

            During the final debate on June 7, candidates invoked their wartime experience during the “Holy Defense,” as it is officially dubbed in Iran, as a top credential for taking office. It clearly shaped the worldviews of all six, despite their disparate political affiliations as reformists, hardliners or independents.
            But experience during the 1980-1988 war is also emerging as an unspoken credential in facing the future, specifically a confrontation with the outside world over Iran’s controversial nuclear program. The debate resonated with language of resistance that echoed from the war, which claimed up to 1 million casualties.
            Iran’s presidential contest illustrates how the war generation is now competing to take over the leadership from the first generation of revolutionaries. Four out of the six candidates were connected to the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s most powerful military organization. Over the past decade, the Guards have also played an increasing role in the economy and politics. Veterans won nearly a fifth of parliament’s 290 seats in 2004.
            The six candidates had vastly different roles.
      Saeed Jalili, a hardliner who is today Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and secretary of Supreme National Security Council, earned the title of “living martyr” when he lost part of his right leg fighting on the front. He served in the Basij paramilitary under the Guards.
      Jalili’s campaign has centered on war imagery and language in his campaign. His slogan — plastered across posters, his website and social media — is “Resistance is the key to success.” A promotional video shows Iranian forces destroying an Iraqi tank during the war. Jalili’s campaign tweeted a picture of himself in a military uniform labeled, “A former soldier, a current diplomat.” His campaign posted a graphic (left) encouraging Iranians to fulfill “today’s” national duty to vote while recalling the past duty to defend the nation.
            He implies the same toughness from his war years will form his foreign policy. “We will not retreat one iota from our basic rights” to nuclear technology, Jalili told supporters on June 3.
            Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, the current mayor of Tehran and another hardliner, has invoked his war experience as much as his eight years running Iran’s largest city. He claims to have played a leading role in recapturing the city of Khorramshahr from Iraqi forces in 1982, a turning point commemorated annually in Iran. He climbed the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards during the war and in 1998 became commander of its air force.
            A posting on his campaign Google Plus profile argued that only “a culture of jihad and martyrdom” can save Iran. He has used his war credentials to reject attempts to label him a technocrat. “I believe that a person is a technocrat [if they have] not seen the color of the front,” he said on June 6.
      Of all the candidates, Mohsen Rezaei (left) arguably played the most high-profile role in the war. He was named chief Revolutionary Guards commander in 1981, a position he held until 1997. An independent, Rezaei regularly cites his military leadership as a qualification for president. In the final debate on June 7, he called for the end of partisan politics, claiming that he engaged with all factions as Revolutionary Guards chief.
      Rezaei’s website features a gallery devoted to pictures of him from the conflict with Iraq. “During the war, I was nearly captured three times. I like to fully examine the enemy before an operation,”Rezaei said.
            Mohammad Gharazi, an independent, helped build the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to support the new theocracy. But it ended up playing the pivotal role in the war. During the war’s early years, Gharazi was governor of southwestern Khuzestan province, where some of the bloodiest battles took place. He also served in various ministerial posts. In the first presidential debate on May 31, he claimed that his generation “carried out a revolution, fought a war, and brought peace.”
            Even Hassan Rouhani — a reformist and the only cleric in the race — has compared his fearlessness on the war front to the presidential race. From 1982 to 1988, he was a member of the Supreme Defense Council. He was named chief of Iran’s air defense in 1985. After the war, he became head of Iran’s National Security Council from 1989 to 2005. Rouhani recently tweeted that he’s “not afraid of anybody in the world,” and that he’s “the same solider who served 8 years in the Iran-Iraq war.”
            Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, a hardliner, was Iran’s chief diplomat during the war, dealing with repeated peace efforts by the international community. He presided over the negotiations that led to a ceasefire. He now claims that his diplomatic experience makes him the best person to solve Iran’s dispute with the international community over Tehran’s nuclear program. “What we did during the Iran-Iraq War in international diplomacy was much more difficult than nuclear negotiations,” he claimed during the June 7 debate.
            Ironically, negotiating the ceasefire made Velayati vulnerable. In the last debate, Qalibaf accused the former foreign minister of drinking coffee with the French president in Elysee Palace while he and other soldiers were dodging missiles on the front.
            Although the war ended twenty-five years ago, its haunting memories may still impact voters when they go to the polls on Friday. Virtually every family suffered a death or a casualty. Billboards of martyrs along streets of cities across the country keep their memory fresh. Many towns have special cemeteries for “martyrs” in the war and museums to the dead, complete with their bloodied uniforms and letters from the war front. Iran’s youth learn about the “Holy Defense” in school.
            The war also cost Iran dearly in economic terms. It cost Iran approximately $637 billion, according to one estimate. The total damage to the economy was equivalent to 77 percent of the country’s total economic output during those eight years.
            The young Islamic Republic resisted a ceasefire that would cede territory or rights to a strategic waterway, the issue that led to Saddam Hussein’s invasion. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini only grudgingly accepted a U.N.-brokered ceasefire in August 1988. He said ending the war without a clear victory was “more deadly than drinking hemlock.”
            Iranians want to avoid having to drink hemlock — or compromising on principle or sovereignty — again. The candidates, whatever their politics, are playing to that popular sentiment.

Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant in the Center for Conflict Management at the United States Institute of Peace.

Helia Ighani is recent graduate from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org


Persian Press on the Race: June 13

Hanif Zarrabi-Kashani
            The Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars offers the latest news on the 2013 Iranian presidential election, based on a selection of Iranian news sources. The Iran Election Update is a daily summary of up-to-date information with links to news in both English and Farsi.

June 13, 2013
  •  The U.S.-based Information and Public Opinion Solutions (IPOS) poll shows candidate Hassan Rouhani surging to 31.7% and Qalibaf in second with 24%. There are still 42.2% of respondents who say they are undecided for tomorrow.
  • During a speech for a group of supporters yesterday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei asked Iranians to vote because “some might not want to support the Islamic Republic for their own reasons, but they do want to support their country so they should also vote."
  • Candidate Ali Akbar-Velayati addressed rumors and main stream reports of dropping out of the presidential race today by saying that, “Despite all the rumors over the past few days, I am announcing that I will remain in the election until the end.”
  • In an interview with Mehr News discussing the vetting process of candidates, the spokesperson of the Guardian Council, Abbass Ali Kadkhodaei, said, “The Guardian Council can review a candidate’s competence up to Election Day.”  
  • This YouTube clip shows people chanting at yesterday’s Hassan Rouhani campaign rally in Mashhad. The packed stadium chants, “If there's cheating, Iran will turn into a battlefield!”
  • On the eve of the presidential election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad released a statement that said, “I believe in the nation’s faith and intelligence,” and “a new era will begin on June 14th.”
  • The BBC condemned "unprecedented levels of intimidation" of BBC employees' families by Iran ahead of its presidential elections. It said Iran had warned the families of 15 BBC Persian Service staff that they must stop working for the BBC or their lives in London would be endangered. The family members were threatened that they may lose jobs and be barred from traveling abroad.
  • The speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, explained why he chose not to run as a candidate in this year’s election by saying, “In this year’s presidential election, there are individuals (candidates) with different views so I felt that my candidacy wasn’t needed.” He also said that remaining as the head of parliament “was more appropriate.”   
  • ILNA posts photos of candidate Hassan Rouhani’s enormous campaign rally yesterday at one of the busiest squares in Tehran, Vanak Square. ISNA posts a series of photos taken around Tehran on the last night of campaigning that reveal a city covered in campaign leaflets. Mehr News also posts photos of Iranians taking to the street and campaigning during the last day of the campaigning period.  
  • An Iranian citizen has reportedly put his vote for sale on EBay for 99 Euros, according to Guardian journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan. The seller of the vote only has one stipulation about who his vote will go toward as he writes in the EBay description, “I will vote for anyone you want except for Mr. Jalili.”

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Latest on the Race: Two Candidates Drop Out

            Two candidates – one hardliner and one reformer have quit Iran’s presidential race, leaving six competing in the June 14 poll. Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, a “principlist” hardliner and ex-parliamentary speaker, dropped out on June 10. Mohammad Reza Aref, a reformist and former vice president, followed on June 11. He received a letter from former President Mohammad Khatami advising him to step down.
            One reformer, two independents and three conservatives now remain in the running. The only candidate to gain from the smaller slate of candidates is Hassan Rouhani, who is now the lone reformist candidate. Khatami and other reformist leaders have declared their support for Rouhani, a cleric and former secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. Haddad-Adel did not officially endorse any other candidate. The following are excerpts from their withdrawal statements.
Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel
       “I announce my withdrawal from the presidential race to help promote the conservative victory… I hope that the conservatives win in the first round, but if it goes to the second round, the competition will be between two conservatives.
      “With my withdrawal I ask the dear people to strictly observe the criteria of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) when they vote for candidates… I advise the dear people to make a correct decision so that either a principlist wins in the first round, or if the election runs to a second round, the competition be between two principlists.”
Mohammad Reza Aref
      “At dusk on Monday... I received a letter from Mohammad Khatami... He said it would not be wise for me to remain in the race…In consideration of Mr. Khatami’s explicit opinion, and the experiences of two past presidential elections, I declare my withdrawal from the election campaign.”



Latest on the Race: Foreign Policy Split

Garrett Nada

            Iran’s third and final presidential debate on June 7 was by far the most heated. In often fiery exchanges, all eight candidates lashed out at their rivals, raising their voices and charging opponents with failing the revolution. The debate exposed deep divisions on how Iran should deal with the international community, economic sanctions, Syria, and nuclear policy. The candidates include two reformists, four “principlist” hardliners, and two independents.
     The third debate was technically about foreign policy. But the two reformists kept bringing the discussion back to basic freedoms—or lack of them. “Freedom of speech is my first goal in domestic policy,” said Hassan Rouhani. Mohammad Reza Aref blamed the principlist camp for virtually all of Iran’s problems. He admonished the conservative candidates for standing by current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his early years in office. Both men also repeatedly endorsed the achievements of former Mohammad Khatami, a reformer who was president from 1997 to 2005.
            The United States came up often in the debate. Rouhani credited himself with preventing a possible U.S. attack after 9/11. He served as Supreme National Security Council secretary and chief nuclear negotiator from 1989 to 2005. He was particularly tough on current negotiator and candidate Saeed Jalili for failing to do a deal with the international community. Jalili countercharged that Rouhani’s weakness had forced Iran to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment in 2003.
      Even the principlists― Mohammad Gharazi, Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, Saeed Jalili, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Ali Akbar Velayati ― took shots at each other. Qalibaf (far left), a former Revolutionary Guards officer, highlighted his battlefield role during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. He accused Velayati, a former foreign minister, of sipping coffee with ex-French President Francois Mitterrand while Qalibaf was being shot at on the front.
            Jalili and Velayati, who are both widely considered close to the supreme leader, clashed over diplomatic strategy in one particularly unusual exchange. Jalili accused Velayati of being too conciliatory on Iran’s nuclear energy program. Velayati countered that Jalili had failed to get sanctions lifted or protect Iran’s rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. “Diplomacy is not a philosophy class,” charged Velayati.
            Mohsen Rezaei and Mohammad Gharazi, the two (comparatively) independent candidates, attacked both the reformists and principlists. Gharazi claimed that both groups have failed the Iranian public for three decades. Rezaei called for the end of partisan politics and said that he had worked with all factions when he had commanded the Revolutionary Guards from 1981 to 1997. He criticized the policies of both Jalili and Rouhani, the current and former secretaries of the Supreme National Security Council. At one point, Rezaei even said about Rouhani, “God help us if he wins with this temper.” Rezaei warned that nuclear talks need to bear fruit soon to prevent sanctions from further damaging Iran’s economy. The following are excerpts and points made by the candidates from the debate.
Hassan Rouhani (reformist)
      “We need to move away from extremism. We should maintain the country's interests and national security to provide conditions where we create opportunities.”
      “The nuclear issue will only be resolved through real negotiations, not just announcements. Iran’s foreign policy should be placed in the hands of skilled, experience people ― not people who do not know what they are talking about.”
            “A successful domestic policy means peace of mind, security, prosperity for people… Freedoms should be protected.”
            “It is very good for [nuclear] centrifuges to spin. But it’s also good for the lives of people to spin.”
• People need to feel like they can speak freely. Freedom of speech brings national power.
Mohammad Reza Aref (reformist)
      “The fundamentalist movement in the country is responsible for all irregularities present in Iran…. Part of the problem is that principlists sidelined reformists.”
      “Our leaders care about their own purview, making decisions without considering how it affects other sectors.”
“We were supposed to bring oil [revenues] to the dinner table, instead we took bread off dinner tables.”
• Qalibaf lacks managerial experience on a large scale.
• Conservatives have monopolized Iranian media. They have called former President Khatami a “spy.”
Saeed Jalili (principlist)
      “Our government’s security is based on people’s support ― not on the police.”
      “Protesting against the official election result is against the law.”
• The opposition Green Movement did a huge disservice to Iran.
• The United States called Iran part of the “axis of evil” after former President Khatami cooperated with it.
• Former President Rafsanjani’s policies were in accordance with the West. But nothing came of them.
• The Ahmadinejad administration’s foreign policy caused the United States to ask Iran for help.
• Choosing between right and wrong does not mean taking the middle path.
Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf (principlist)
      “A government that is not accepted by its own people cannot wield any authority when dealing with other countries.”
      “Our foreign policy was not as successful as we wanted.”
      “While you [Velayati] were having coffee with [former French President Francois] Mitterand, I was being shot at… Is that diplomacy?”
• The Islamic Awakening was inspired by Iran’s 1979 revolution.
• South America is not a geo-strategic priority for Iran.
• The West accepts free speech and human rights only when it suits their interests.
• E.U. bans on Iranian satellite channels expose double standards on freedom of expression and human rights.
• Iran has disrupted U.S. hegemony by negotiating with the world’s six major powers on the nuclear issue.
• The shutdown of Iranian embassies in Europe was a diplomatic failure.
• Rouhani did not allow student associations to get permits to protest while he was head of the Supreme National Security Council.
Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel (principlist)
      “Even if international pressure increases on Iran, people will not give in and we will defend the country like we have been for the past several thousand years.”
      “Iran needs to cultivate good relations with the international community through cultural diplomacy. Millions of Iranians live abroad and we must use them as cultural ambassadors. They can send a message of peace to the world.”
• Solving the nuclear dispute is the toughest challenge Iran faces. The West accuses Iran of wanting to have a bomb, but it does not.
• Lifting sanctions should be a foreign policy priority.
• U.S. tensions with Iran are not tied to the nuclear issue. They relate to Iran’s independence and date back to the Islamic revolution. U.S. enmity of Iran is more intense than in the past.
•  Iran should strengthen its economic infrastructure to counter U.S. sanctions
• Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stood against the Shah with no means to do so. Iran can learn a lesson from his resistance.
• Ahmadinejad is not the cause of all of Iran’s problems.
Ali Akbar Velayati (principlist)
      “What we did during the Iran-Iraq War in international diplomacy was much more difficult than nuclear negotiations.”
      “Training, professionalism and efficiency in foreign policy staff is what is important.”
• Diplomacy is not resistance. It is interaction and not about reading a statement.
• Reformists sidelined principlists when they were in charge as retribution.
•  Iranians see current nuclear negotiations as futile and are concerned about additional economic sanctions
Mohammad Gharazi (independent)
      “Both reformists and principlists have disappointed and frustrated people.”
      “China was able to stand up to the United States only after it fixed its own economy and increased productivity. Iran is not yet at that point.”
• Fix domestic problems before foreign relations.
• Sanctions are not very important, whether they are related to the nuclear program or not.
• Allow provinces to elect their own leaders
Mohsen Rezaei (independent)
      “The resistance strategy against the United States has been ineffective.”
      “We can only beat the United States at the sanctions game by reversing unemployment and strengthening our currency.”
      “Negotiations [over the nuclear issue] need to bear fruit. We should not hesitate because with every passing day sanctions are doing more damage [to Iran’s economy.]”
• Public servants should be placed in positions according to their skills and talents.
• Iran is stuck between two competing groups. One only chants “resistance” and the other claims sanctions have ruined the country.
• Iran’s only allies are from the 1980s (Syria and Hezbollah).
• Rouhani and Jalili’s foreign policies were both too extreme.
• Abolish discrimination against ethnic minorities.
• Establish strong relations with Islamic countries like Syria
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org

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