The Foreign Service Journal - October 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2017 23 Constitutional Revolution), which shook the regime to the core but was subdued by outright force, intimidation andmass incarcera- tions. Five revolts in a century, all aspiring to greater civil liberty and democratic reform—though largely thwarted in each case—give Iran a remarkable record of political activism. That same rebellious instinct has been present in virtually every election that has been conducted under the Islamic Republic, at least since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Presidential, parliamentary and municipal races are held every two years or less, on average. All Iranian citizens are free to vote, and they can cast their vote in any polling station in the country. The 2017 Election To see how the political systemworks, let’s look at the presi- dential election earlier this year. In Iran, anyone can register to be a presidential candidate; and for this past May’s election, 1,636 citizens, including 137 women, did. Instead of holding primaries to cull the field, the Guardian Council, an appointed and consti- tutionally mandated 12-member body, sorts the candidates. In a lightning-fast period of five days, it reduced the presidential slate to six men: the incumbent president himself and one of his close associates, two conservatives (the head of a major religious foun- dation who was said to be the favorite of the Supreme Leader, and the mayor of Tehran), plus two nonentities. A former president andmany other candidates with apparently sterling qualifications were rejected, without explana- tion or appeal. This part of the process is opaque, blatantly political in nature and utterly undemocratic by any possible measure. No one who is perceived to be an opponent or critic of the Islamic revolutionary system is permitted to run for president, and no woman has ever been approved as a candidate for that office. The decision by President Rouhani and one of his close associ- ates to run against each other is an interesting feature of recent Iranian elections. Under Iranian law, the winning presidential candidate must have a clear majority, or else the election goes to a runoff. It was understood by everyone that Rouhani’s associate was there to take a hard line in the debates; to say the sorts of things that might have been difficult for the president himself to say; to promote Rouhani on the stump in the very brief campaign period of only one month; and then to withdraw his candidacy in favor of the president. That had been a winning tactic previously for the reformist candidates, and it was repeated this time. In the past, the conserva- tives had competed against each other and divided the vote, to their chagrin. In this election, they played the reformist game. IbrahimRaisi, whomany regarded as the preferred candidate of the Supreme Leader, and even as a possible future candidate for supreme leader himself, was a poor campaigner with almost no political experience. Mohammad Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, was an experienced politician with an impressive résumé who had twice before run for the presidency. To the surprise of many, he withdrew from the election at the last minute, throwing his support to Raisi, thereby making it effectively a two-man race. Iran has no political parties. However, major candidates endorse lists of candidates who tend to agree with them. These lists can overlap, and for purposes of expediency may include candidates whose support is marginal at best. So it is extremely The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs occupies the former headquarters of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. BLONDINRIKARD/VIAWIKIMEDIACOMMONS On foreign policy, Iranians are realist to the core and driven almost entirely by their perception of the long-term interests of the nation.