23 Nov 2010 20:43
More creative balloting.
[ dispatch ] Majles Speaker Ali Larijani's recent election as chairman of the majority faction has further highlighted the cracks in the pro-regime Principlist camp and the ambiguous nature of democracy in the Islamic Republic.
On Sunday, November 7, the central council of the legislature's Principlist faction voted to choose its leader. Depending on the source, Larijani was either named on 44 out of 47 ballots as the sole candidate, or squeaked by with 25 votes over his rival, Tehran representative and Second Deputy Speaker Shahabeddine Sadr, who had 20.
The election took place amid rising tensions within the conservative camp. While Larijani and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been archrivals since 2005 when both men ran for president, it would be an oversimplification to describe the animosity among the Principlists solely as a power struggle between the two figures.
A review of news reports, interviews, and official blogs appears to shows that Larijani obtained only 25 votes, but that creative electioneering allowed his supporters to advance the 44-vote figure under the guise of presenting a picture of unity to the general public.
The Islamic Republic News Agency, run by Ahmadinejad's former media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, reported the correct number of ballots for Larijani, but the misleading figure of 44 was disseminated by a far greater number of outlets, including the 20:30 television news program. This was initially a public relations victory for Larijani supporters, but their subsequent attempts to explain the discrepancy has taken some of the luster off the conceit that the Majles speaker is an uncontested leader.
Tension, dissension, and all-out conflict are not new in the Principlist camp. The impeachment of Interior Minister Ali Kordan for holding a bogus doctorate -- a move initiated by fellow Principlist and Majles representative Ahmad Tavakoli during Ahmadinejad's first term -- is just only one example. But the events following the disputed election of June 2009 have deepened the fault lines between conservatives.
Just in the past nine months, Elias Naderan, representative of Tehran, accused First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi of corruption and called for his arrest in an open session of the legislature; Morteza Nabavi of the Islamic Society of Engineers warned of the ascension of "deviant Principlists"; pro-Ahmadinejad goons besieged the parliament building after a majority of MPs voted down the government's attempts to appropriate Azad University assets; and the Majles voted to remove Ahmadinejad from the chairmanship of the Central Bank's general assembly.
It was against this vitriolic backdrop that the Principlists set about to elect the leader of their Majles faction, a post that Larijani has filled in addition to that of speaker for the past two years. The vote had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, November 2, at 6 p.m. after evening prayers, Vali Esmaili (representative of Germi, Ardabil province) told Aftab daily. But by Tuesday afternoon, Shargh daily reported that the meeting had been postponed. "It has become clear that 37 of the central council's 44 members are critics of Larijani's stewardship," the paper stated. "Consequently, Larijani's supporters have again postponed the meeting of the Principlist faction's central council, which was to have elected its board."
Sadr et al
The Islamic Revolution faction, a Principlist subgroup, had yet to decide whether to field a candidate against Larijani. The Islamic Revolution faction was created in early 2009 with one primary message, that "Ahmadinejad is the best presidential nominee for the Principlists"; as such, its candidate may have had a polarizing effect on the proceedings. Eventually, they threw their support behind Shahabeddine Sadr, who -- though not a member of their group -- is a conservative with impeccable credentials and an independent streak. Sadr also had close relations with some of Ahmadinejad's key ministers. (In the photo above, from left to right: Sadr, Islamic Guidance Minister Seyed Mohammad Hosseini, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar, and Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi.)
Principlists for Mousavi
Sadr, a physician and university professor, was one of ten presidential candidates in the 2001 race, the election that swept Mohammad Khatami into his second term. (Sadr came in seventh). While a Majles representative, he was elected chairman of the National Medical Association in 2008.
As the deputy chief of the Front for Followers of the Line of the Imam and the Leader, an umbrella organization comprising more than a dozen Principlist groups, he was approached by the Society of Combatant Clergy and the Islamic Coalition Party to make another run for the presidency in 2009. He turned down the offer, but made some surprisingly positive remarks about another candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who would go on to become one of the primary leaders of the Green Movement. "He believed that Mousavi was a known individual with administrative experience and that he was respected by all," reported Khabar Online, a news source closely associated with Larijani. According to the Khabar report, Sadr believed that Mousavi "was loyal to the principles of the regime and the revolution, and that his red lines were the Imam [Ruhollah Khomeini], the Constitution, and the Velaayat-e Faghih," or "Rule of the Jurisprudent," the principle from which Ayatollah Ali Khamenei derives his power as Supreme Leader. It was not unusual at the time for some conservatives to endorse Mousavi and indeed they formed an official organization called Principlist Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Sadr was not a member of that group and endorsed Ahmadinejad instead. Following the disputed election, he has generally refrained from making speeches or appearing on television programs, although he did extend his congratulations to Ahmadinejad and the nation after last year's presdiential election. In May, he was chosen by his peers as the second deputy speaker of the Majles. Larijani ran unchallenged for the post of speaker in the same election.
In the central council meeting of November 7, Sadr agreed to run against Larijani for chairman of the Principlist faction of the legislature. There were 47 participants in the meeting -- the 44 members of the central council and three from the faction's arbitration committee. All had the right to vote, according to the statutes of the faction. Per two reports, one arbitrator and one member of the council were absent.
Esmail Kowsari, a Tehran MP, attempted to start the meeting with a few words about the speaker's record, but was not given the floor. Ballots were distributed and Larijani won with 25 votes over Sadr's 20. There were two blank votes.
Here the accounts diverge. "Upon the suggestion of Mr. [Hossein] Nejabat, after the official vote, an oral vote was carried out by uttering a salavaat prayer," wrote Principlist representative Hamid Rasai (pictured in turban) in his blog. "A few individuals disagreed with this and the rest said a salavaat meaning, 'Yes, Larijani is the leader.'" According to Rasai, "Immediately, Mr. Larijani's office mobilized and put pressure on various outlets, asking them to report 44 out of 47 votes for Larijani.... Some outlets contacted us and said that Larijani's office was insisting that this news be reported."
Hossein Nejabat (pictured with glasses) is also a Tehran representative, though it is said that he lives mostly in Qom -- Larijani is one of Qom's representatives -- and is a member of the Society of Islamic Revolution Devotees (Jameiyat-e Isaargaraan-e Eslami), which supported Tehran mayor and Ahmadinejad rival Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in the 2005 presidential election. Nejabat obtained a doctorate in nuclear physics from Durham University in England.
Larijani's supporters countered with their own narrative, though not more convincingly. "Before the [official] vote, Mr. Nejabat suggested that the vote with paper ballots be considered an exploratory vote [raygiriyeh estemzaji] and that whichever candidate obtained the favor of the majority should become the unique candidate of the faction and all of us should vote for him, so that the unity and homogeneity of the Principlists could be shown to the people," Seyed Hossein Naghvi Hosseini, representative of Varamin, explained to Khabar Online.
What about the salavaat prayer?
"The salavaat was uttered when Mr. Nejabat made his suggestion and it was requested that those who favored the suggestion should say a salavaat," stated Hosseini. Asked why so many central council members were complaining, Hosseini said, "In any case, this drumbeat of opposition in the central council of the Principlists is nothing new. In my opinion, the opposition of some of our colleagues to Mr. Larijani is entering the sphere of Principlism."
Opposition against Larijani may not be new, but neither are irregularities in his election to the chairmanship of the Principlist faction. Last year, when he ran against Morteza Agha Tehrani, "Larijani's supporters were told that the meeting was at 4 p.m. and his critics were told that the meeting would start at 4:30 p.m.," according to Rasai. "Twelve of the 44 members of the central council arrived late, after the election had already taken place."
Homylafayette, a Tehran Bureau contributor, blogs here.
Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau