An online press conference, hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), was held on May 4, 2017, to discuss the impacts and implications of the “sham” election in Iran to be held later this month. The two main speakers were Ambassador Giulio Terzi, the former Foreign Minister of Italy and a former ambassador to the United States; and Mohammad Mohaddessin, Chairman of the NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee.
The opening remarks were made by Mohaddessin, who called the Iran election scheduled for May 19th, totally different from the elections that occur in democratic countries. It is only an election if there is opposition, he noted, which is not the case in Iran. The only ones who can serve as candidates are already a part of the ruling regime.
“One has to keep in mind that elections are a modern concept, which is totally contradictory with this regime. It is a total contradiction of the absolute rule of the supreme leader that is a concept of the Middle Ages,” said Mohaddessin.
He also noted that all power is in the hands of the supreme leader and the powers of the president are very limited. The real power is with the supreme leader and his revolutionary guards.
What do elections mean in Iran? They are just a power sharing exercise within the regime’s factions. All the factions are in agreement when it comes to main policies, such as oppression at home and the exporting of terrorism abroad, as well as the development of weapons of mass destruction. It all of these areas, the power is in the hands of Ali Khamenei. “Whoever becomes the president does not have the leverage to impact these three areas,” said Mohaddessin.
Then he discussed how the candidates were chosen and the lack of impact that the president could have in Iran, even if he wanted to make significant changes.
“All of these six candidates…are running with the approval of Khamenei, the supreme leader,” said Mohaddessin. He pointed out that the two front runners, both received his approval and then proceeded to focus on each candidates’ history with regime, including the death commission and the oppression of political prisoners. He accused both men of being murderers.
Mohaddessin then pointed out that the regime was in at a critical point. It was facing crises on a variety of fronts, including economic, social, political and internationally, which made this election stand out for the choices Khamenei made in who was going to run.
He pointed out that despite the concessions from the West as part of the nuclear agreement of 2015, Iran’s regime had failed to solve any of its problems in the last 18 months. Mohaddessin noted that an internal crisis has been intensified by the laying down of a nuclear program, even temporarily. He argued that this has weakened Khamenei within the regime.
With the change of administrations in the United States, Iran has lost its only real backing in the international community. As a result, Iran has once again become a country with grave concerns about the policies of the new administration and their impact on the international stage.
Part of the regime’s center of power is its ability to crush any opposition to its ruling authority. When PMOI members were in Camp Liberty in Iraq, multiple attempts were made to kill or discredit these individuals as part of the political opposition. Yet, despite all of their efforts, these individuals have now been relocated to the safety of Albania, out of the reach of the mullahs. This move was made possible by united efforts from members of the international community on behalf of the PMOI.
“The presence of an organized resistance with roots inside Iran is a major factor that the regime must consider in its calculations,” said Mohaddessin.
Khamenei is engineering the election to balance the factions so that there is no uprising of the people, similar to what occurred in 2009. The fear is that if an uprising to occur again, the regime could not control it. A boycott of the election is also a concern, particularly because the youth seem the least inclined to vote.
The issues of the election seem to stem on who is the best candidate to ensure the survival of the regime. Each candidate presents various concerns that will cause issues within Iran and internationally, but it is key that Khamenei will continue to use oppression and the spread of fundamentalism to keep the regime in power.
The international community needs to understand that there is no such thing as a moderate or reforming faction within the regime. Mohaddessin also noted that the regime is reaching a point of crisis and cannot survive indefinitely without concessions to the international community.
“The notion that there are moderates in the line ups in Iran is delusional. This is any only a perception that has been pushed by Tehran and its supporters, for obvious reasons and has led to disastrous results,” said Terzi. He noted that countries, including the United States, have chased this “mirage”. He encouraged the international community to finally draw the right lessons from these experiences. “There might be tactical differences,” he noted among the candidates, but the differences ultimately go back to keeping the regime in power.
Ambassador Terzi concurred with Mohaddessin, noting that the election in Iran will change very little within the ruling theocracy. He noted that they have no problem being violent against their own people and this carries beyond their borders.
There have been many stories about deals being done with Iran to tap the Iranian marketplace, but Terzi noted that this is a false impression, because the Iranian marketplace is undermined by state-run corruption and nepotism. The strategic meddling of Iran in the region mean “very few resources are left” for the Iranian people and the country’s economic growth and social improvements, said Terzi.
He also noted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controls multiple agencies and companies, and thus deals directly with a large portion of the economy. Their policies contradict Western imperatives, values and national interests both in Iran and abroad. “It is irrelevant who becomes the next president,” said Terzi, noting that any major policy shift is unrealistic, because all the power is with the Supreme Leader.
Terzi said that the international community shouldn’t ignore the Iranian people, whose uprising is feared by the regime. Khamenei has to weigh domestic issues, international concerns (particularly regarding the nuclear agreement and the United States), and the succession of the supreme leader, when he chooses the next president. Each brings their own issues and makes the process more complex.
Terzi also noted that any funds coming into Iran are being filtered to the IRGC for its use in various international operations and that businesses need to be aware of how Iran is using the funds it receives. He quoted a leader of Hezbollah, who confessed that their funding and weapons come from Iran and then said that this information should “open many eyes that remain wide shut”.