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Iran’s elections of February 26, 2016

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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On February 26, 2016 elections will be held in Iran both for Parliament (Majlis) and for the Assembly of Experts, the Council created by Khomeini to institutionalize the velayat-e faqih, the “guardianship of the jurist”, which characterizes the specific subjection of Iran’s civil and criminal law (and politics) to the evaluation of the faqih, namely the experts of the Shi’ite Islamic law.

This happens pending the arrival of the twelfth Imam, the Hidden Imam, who will mark the end of time and the universal conversion to Shi’ism. He alone can really make the laws, and therefore the “experts” check the similarity of the rules to those that will be later laid down by the last Sovereign, the Last Imam, a descendant of Ali as his predecessors.

Given this theological and esoteric aspect, which can never be forgotten, from the organization and political viewpoints the Council of Experts is made up of 88 mujtahid, theologians and hence experts on Islamic law, who have not only the task of discussing the country’s political guidance and direction, but also to elect the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, namely the Rahbar.The Council of Experts shall meet at least two days every six months.

The Supreme Leader is also much more powerful than the President elected by the people and appoints the top officers of the intelligence services, the military and the Revolutionary Guards, as well as the senior officials of the central bank and the Public Administration.

These elections had been scheduled for 2014, but they were postponed for two years so as to hold them at the same time as the elections for Parliament (Majlis).The Council, which has the constitutional power to do so, quashed at least 80% of candidates, that is to say all women and Khomeini’s grandson, Hassan.If all goes according to plan, this Council of Guardians will be crucial, because it should elect the successor of the current Rahbar, Ali Khamenei.Tehran has been allocated 16 seats to the Council while, in other districts, the seats range between 6 and 1, which is the seat allocated to provinces such as the Bushehr province, where the oldest and major nuclear site is located.

The Council of Experts shall elect the new Supreme Leader with a majority of two thirds of its members, while the Assembly (Majlis) shall elect the President.The Legislative Assembly consists of 290 members, 285 of whom elected directly and the five remaining ones are reserved for the admitted minorities: the Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians.The constituencies are 196 and include both single-member constituencies based on a first past the post system and constituencies based on a proportional representation system.

In the former ones, with a view to being elected, the candidate shall obtain at least one third of votes in the first round. If this happens, in the second round the choice is between the two best placed candidates.In the latter ones, voters can express as many preferences as the number of seats available for the constituency. With a view to being elected, the candidate must obtain at least one third of the valid votes, as in the former constituencies.

If not all seats are awarded, in the second round elections will be held with twice as many candidates as the seats available.These are the rules, which are essential for understanding the political aspect of these dual elections in Iran.The major competing parties are 12 and they are all fervent Islamist parties.The broadest coalition seems to be the “Principalist group”, which brings together six political groups.The candidate to the Assembly is Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel.Former President of the Majlis, he has a high-profile Western and Shi’ite philosophical education and is not a cleric, namely a faqih.He was a member of Parliament for thirteen years and in four elections he was supported by Abadgaran, the coalition of various parties and associations which, in 2004, brought Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad to power.For years he has been one of the most listened advisers to Ali Khamenei and he ran for the presidential elections of July 2013, without great success.It is a candidacy of high personal profile, but of absolute loyalty to the status quo.

The candidate of the “Reformists’ Coalition”, formed by four parties, is Mohammed Reza Aref.He is a loyal aide of Khatami, with a degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. of the Stanford University. With a view to devoting himself to political activity, he refused a government position offered to him by Rowhani.He is the only reformist candidate who can win.

Nevertheless political prospects are currently unpredictable in Iran: a large part of the public that, in Western terms, we would call “reformist” relates the improved economic conditions to a better climate between Iran and the West. However, the “conservative” front (another misnomer we use for the Iranian political sphere) takes advantage of the basic ambiguity of the JCPOA agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 to topicalize the religious-political nationalism typical of the Islamic Republic.

If the national-religious card is played, which is the most accepted by the working classes, the reformers will lose – maybe narrowly – but they will certainly lose.

The candidate of the “People’s Voice Coalition” is Ali Motahari.He has defined himself as a “conservative-liberal” and is the son of an important faqih, Morteza Motahari, who founded the “Council of Revolution of Iran” at the request of Khomeini, of whom he had been a disciple and aide during the Shah’s period. He was murdered by the People’s Mojahedin of Iran in 1979.

The Mojahedin were also those who, in 2002, disclosed the existence of Iran’s nuclear program.The candidate Motahari is a cousin of the current Speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, who was one of the most careful negotiators of Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 and is a very fierce critic of Ahmadinedjad.The candidate of the “Islamic Awakening Front” is Shahab od-Din Sadr.He is a doctor who was elected thrice as a member of Parliament in Tehran.

For the time being it is hard to make forecasts, but 28% of Iranian voters support “moderate” candidates, which means politicians who accept the JCPOA – but without some national diminutio capitis – and, above all, want to take advantage of the new international climate to redress and revive the Iranian economy, which is seen as a primary issue by 58% of voters.24% of Iranian voters would like to see a political program in continuity with Ahmadinedjad’s.This means Islamic nationalism, rejection of the JCPOA and what we would call “populism” – again with a Western political misnomer.

If a share of the moderate coalition’s votes adds to the 24% of Ahmadinedjad’s nostalgics, the feeble thread of the relationship with the West will break and the geo-economic solution can only be closer links with the Russian Federation and China, while an armed clash or a low-intensity war with Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies becomes more likely.13% and 23% are the voting intentions predicted for the reformers and for Haddad-Adel’s followers.In total, 41% will vote for candidates linked to Rafsanjani and Hassan Rowhani, the current President, coming from the moderate-reformist area.

Hence the JCPOA will be supported by the government, but with great caution and some probable backlash.Reza Aref, Haddad-Adel Mohammed Reza Aref and Ali Mohtahari are the most popular candidates in the Tehran district and in the most populous constituencies.If the Iranians voted for the whole reformers’ list and not for the individual parties and candidates composing it, they would win hands down.

Conversely, if the list of Haddad-Adel’s “Principalists” presented itself united, with all the parties composing it which collaborate with one another without electoral competition, Haddad-Adel’s followers would win over 80 seats.Hence a highly unpredictable outcome, which will directly concern the nuclear deal and which will finally mark a polarization between “reformers” and “conservatives” – to use again Western misnomers – that will block the political system, with the results we can easily imagine.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

US-Iran Tension: Avert any big disaster to humanity

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US-Iran tension is growing to a dangerous level. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, but everyone agrees that it is leading toward a big disaster. Human life and natural resources are at stake. Irrespective, who will suffer more and who will suffer less, but it is human life, which is the most precious thing in this world, is at stake.

Middle-East is an oil and gas-rich area and meets the major portion of world energy demand. Any disturbance in this region will have a severe impact on the global economy. Whether one is right or wrong, will be the victim of this crisis directly or indirectly.

This war will be not like the Iraq war or the Libya War. As at that time, there was only one superpower and the world was unipolar. There was no resistance from any corner of the world. US and allies, without any resistance, conducted the war and achieved their desired results. But a lot of resistance was witnessed in case of Syrian War. The whole scenario has been changed, the calculated results were not achieved yet. Finally, the US has decided to pull back its troops. Similarly, Afghanistan case is not ideal, after spending trillion dollars, and fighting for 17 years, not gains on the ground and finally has to pull back.

It may not be limited to only US-Iran but may engulf the whole region. As traditional rivals are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to settle their old disputes. Whether, it is Arab-Iran, or Israel-Iran, or Arab-Israel enmity, may it spread to a much wider sphere than expected. It is in control of a few countries to start or refrain the escalation, but once it has been broken, it may be beyond the control of either country.

Especially, Russia and China are not sleeping at this time. They are in a strong position to offer resistance. It should not be taken an easy task like Iraq or Libya war. It is difficult to predict the exact reaction of Russia or China, but anticipated resistance.

If we expect, US or Iran to avert this foreseeable war will be not a realistic approach. As if they were to avoid any disaster, they should not have created so hype and should not have moved to this stage. They may not accept total hegemony of the US in this part of the world. They have heavy stakes in the middle-East and cannot be spectators only.

Geopolitics has been changed, regional alliances have emerged, and nations have re-aligned themselves. Much more complex changes have been witnessed after the war on terror. Public awareness has been enhanced, maybe some of the governments in this region have a different outlook, but public opinion is much more realistic and may play a vital role in the days to come. Old time’s friends may stand on the other side of the table. Some radical changes may be visible on grounds.

UN role was ineffective in the past and a little is expected in the future. In fact, the UN has been hijacked and curtailed to a very limited role practically. While one of its major mandates was to resolve the disputes among nations and avoid wars or war-like situations.

Under this serious scenario, there is a hope that all peace-loving nations and individuals, may peruse the UN and International Community do something to avert this bid human disaster.  We all share one world, we have the responsibility to save this world. Any loss of human life in any part of the world is considered the loss to the whole of humanity. And the destruction of natural resources may be considered a loss to humanity. Any damage to Environment or ecology or biodiversity may be a net loss to humanity. We all are son and daughter of ADAM and share a common world, common environment, common resources. We need to protect humanity, environment and natural resources.

It is strongly appealed to the UN, International Community and all individuals who believe in Peace, must act, and must act now, and must act strongly, to avert any bid disaster to humanity.

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Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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