It's official: the Guardian Council, a roundtable of 12 men approved either directly or indirectly by the Supreme Leader of Iran, has announced its verdict: of the 686 men and women who registered to run for the office of the Presidency this year, only eight have been chosen. And all are men. (Remember, the Guardian Council doesn't approve of women running for president).
Perhaps most controversial is the news that the Reformist candidate (and former president) Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been disqualified, as has current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's handpicked candidate (the one he accompanied to the election registration), Esfandiar Mashaei.
With millions of supporters of disqualified candidates disappointed today, it is no wonder that many Iranians consider vetting day the true election day.
What the huge disqualifications do tells us is that the Supreme Leader and his hardline establishment are flexing their muscles for anyone who's looking for trouble at this year's presidential election -- and that includes former members of the establishment who have distanced themselves from Khamenei in recent years.
But it's looking like the drama might take place BEFORE the elections this time around. There is already talk that the Guardian Council disqualified Rafsanjani to embarrass him and that the Supreme Leader may take it upon himself to personally allow him to run. Reports are also coming in from Iran that Mashaei is considering appealing the decision to the Supreme Leader.
What's more likely, however, is that Ahmadinejad is going to let this slide (besides, as the law stands now, he can run again in 2018) and Rafsanjani will announce a second choice for his supporters -- presumably Hassan Rowhani, whose platform of addressing civil rights and opening up to the West fits the Reformist agenda.
The Guardian Council could hardly have failed to vet at least a few candidates with credentials tying them to today's Reformist leaders, considering the political overlapping. Mohammad Reza Aref was the 1st Vice President under Reformist leader Mohammad Khatami's second term. (Iranian presidents have many Vice Presidents -- there are currently 12 -- but the first VP is the most important: the only one who can take on the role of acting president.) And, further blurring the lines between the different factions in Iranian politics, approved candidate Gharazi once held top posts under Rafsanjani's presidency. Other candidates have also in the past worked under some who are current Reformist leaders.
While the elections in Iran have long been a source of fascination for international observers, the intense coverage of the elections belies the truth of the Iranian political system: the president of Iran is hardly powerful when it comes to making substantial progress or change in Iran, and no matter who is in the office of the Presidency (or any other office, for that matter), power rests in the hands of one man and one man only: the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Presidency is, more than anything, a gauge of the present ideology of the Supreme Leader and his inner circle. When Khatami won the first time around, there was an understanding that Iran's powerbase was looking to open up a bit, both domestically and internationally. But it wasn't long before that tiny window was broken: Khatami's failure to support the student movement of 1999 not only proved his powerlessness but proved that the establishment's interest in allowing more freedoms is fleeting.
When Ahmadinejad first came to power, Iran's powerbase was keen to assert itself both regionally and internationally and was less interested in addressing -- however trivially -- the demands of the Iranian people. It was a direct contrast to the image of Khatami and it was intentional.
This time around, considering Ahmadinejad's increasing insubordination, it's likely that the Supreme Leader and his base are looking for one thing for sure: a president who doesn't veer from the official line.
Here is the full list of candidates approved to run for Iran's election:
Saeed Jalili (Iran's top nuclear negotiator and the alleged pick of Supreme Leader Khamenei).
Gholam Ali Haddad Addel (former Chair of Iran parliament).
Ali Akbar Velayati (the former and longest-serving Foreign Minister).
Mohsen Rezaie (a former presidential candidate and former chief commander of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps).
Hassan Rowhani (a former top nuclear negotiator).
Mohammad Reza Aref (the former first Vice President of Reformist leader and former President Khatami).
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (current mayor of Tehran).
Mohammad Gharazi (a former Minister of Petroleum).