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Iran’s Muddled Presidential Politics

WASHINGTON, DC – The decision of former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami not to seek the presidency again has revealed how muddled Iranian presidential politics now is.  In trying to sort out this muddle, the most important thing to keep in mind is not so much who will be elected, but what that choice will reveal�about the intentions of the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Unfortunately, the most likely outcome will be continuing transformation of the Islamic Republic from a civil government into a garrison state in which the military plays a major role in determining political and economic matters.

Who will actually win the vote is unpredictable, but not because Iran is democratic. Ayatollah Khamenei, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, oversees the agencies that will run the election: the Guardian Council and the Ministry of Interior, which supervise the electoral process, and the Basij militia and Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), which unofficially control the ballot-boxes and the vote-counting process.

Recent surveys show that the increasing unpopularity of the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stems primarily from his economic policies. Although oil prices reached an all-time high in 2008, unemployment and inflation (now 31%) are out of control and the government is facing a $44 billion budget deficit. The public sector accounts for roughly 80% of the economy, and relies mostly on now-plummeting oil revenue, while Iranian banks face a credit crisis, with Mahmoud Bahmani, the governor of the Iran Central Bank, estimating total delinquent payments to be $38 billion.