Who Will Be the Next Leader of the Principlist Camp?
Behind the calm in the Principlist camp, a storm is in bud. More anxious than ever, the rifts have opened, and an unusual battle for power is growing among various spectra of the Principlist camp.
In the holy city of Mashhad, Ebrahim Raisi is presenting himself as the representative, mouthpiece, and leader of the camp, backed by 16 million votes he pocketed in the presidential race. Here in Tehran, Saeed Jalili has summoned his entourage, calling for the formation of a shadow cabinet. It is a complicated situation, as though efforts to bid farewell to the Principlists’ presidential candidate have already begun. The tough endeavor is however met by resistance from Raisi's supporters.
Battle behind the curtains of purported democracy
Everything seems to have begun from the day the presidential election was held. However, the root cause should be found several months back, when the Principlists convened in southern Tehran. The goal seemed clear: to omit several hopefuls in order to put an already chosen number in gear for the race ahead. It was exactly in the same line that Ezzatollah Zarghami, Rostam Ghassemi, Ali Nikzad and the likes were eliminated despite their own disbelief. In such an atmosphere, even figures like Mohsen Rezaei saw the serious obstacles ahead, noticed the game plotted, and preferred to shy away from the risk.
Individuals like Mehrdad Bazrpash and Alireza Zakani, who were part of the team executing the plan, felt they could persuade backstage decision-makers of the camp to shuffle the deck. Tehran mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf had sensed on the very same day that Principlists wanted him, but not as the man destined to be in the presidential office but to help raise the main candidate to power. However, he thought he could overcome them, hence tossed his hat into the ring.
The more conventional actors, of the type of the Islamic Coalition Party, were more experienced in the ways of politics than to let the game eliminate them so easily. They toddled along, but split their way in the end. But others had no choice. They conceded to this show of democracy, only to be crossed out step by step, helping the camp's decision-makers to pull the strings.
However, the battle for power did not stop there. It was just the beginning. Two men had remained in the scene: Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf.
Qalibaf should not have, but remained. Now that he insisted on his decision, so much the better thought the decision-makers. He could act as scapegoat, sparking controversies against the rival. The Tehran mayor had no other options whatsoever. He was left alone since everybody had migrated to Ebrahim Raisi’s campaign. The number of prominent figures on his side was less than a handful.
Meetings were held one after another behind closed doors. The agenda on the table was not limited to analyzing the best ways to confront Rouhani. A major part of the meetings was dedicated to another important issue: how to make Tehran mayor drop out of the race. Qalibaf, sensing this, was more infuriated than ever. His face represented behind-the-scene developments in the camp. The reddish hue on his face during the debates indicated efforts to put him aside. In contrast, Ebrahim Raisi was calm in the first two debates. Obviously, he had nothing to worry about. He knew he was the one supposed to remain in the race, that Qalibaf is just a company for a day or two. He was aware both of the battle behind the stage and of their ultimate end.
Unlike Qalibaf, Saeed Jalili had seen through the game pursued by behind the scene actors and withdrew from candidacy in the last hour to avoid a fate like that of Qalibaf. Former nuclear negotiator soon signaled support for Raisi, but his political ethics stood nowhere close to such games: when he found out what had been planned for Qalibaf, he did not shy away from protest. An important message was posted on a Telegram channel affiliated with Jalili a few hours before Qalibaf's withdrawal statement was published. "The mechanism for Qalibaf's withdrawal does not have much significance … what matters is that this big gamble will pave the way for Rouhani's reelection … because the voter base of Raisi and Qalibaf will not synergize, as the former's ballots are ideologically motivated while the latter's are socially driven. Therefore, part of Qalibaf's votes may add up to Rouhani's," read the Telegram post. A few minutes later, another backlash appeared on the same channel. "Once, the bringing up of the ‘British List’ by some so-called politicians caused a defeat in the parliamentary election. Now, pressure by the Popular Front of Revolutionary Force (PFRF) on Qalibaf to withdraw. It is now easier to understand why Jalili did not ally with the group," added the channel.
But battle had borne fruit and Qalibaf eventually withdrew in favor of Ebrahim Raisi. Happier than ever, members of the Society of Devotees of the Islamic Revolution (Isargaran), the hardliner Paydari front, and the Society of Pathseekers of the Islamic Revolution (Rahpouyan) were sitting to watch the final scene of the script they had written unfold.
But they lost the election; as simple as that, and the defeat has made politics more difficult for the camp. Important updates that surface under the camp's skin hint at a war for power that has officially broken out. Apparently, Ebrahim Raisi believes the 16-million votes principally belong to him. "I said I want to be the voice of those who remain unheard. I said I want to be the voice of the underprivileged and those wrestling with various social problems who have no organ or mouthpiece. I hope to remain an advocate of the underprivileged families and the poor forever," Iranian media have quoted him as saying.
Far away, here in Tehran, other reports are coming. Decision-makers consider Raisi no longer relevant, having no interest in continuing their political career under Ebrahim Raisi. It is perhaps because of the same concerns that Saeed Jalili has been considering a shadow cabinet. In an address to the first meeting of his shadow cabinet, he stressed the necessity of active involvement. "A political spectrum with 16 million votes should remain faithful in the future and help make public opinion see that it has serious plans in various spheres. We should not come every four years, offering general insight in order to present the revolutionary approach. This should be done step by step, neighborhood to neighborhood, and gradually, if you need results. All the sixteen million voters should also remain in the scene in order to encourage others to join," he said.
Indeed a determining battle. The political weigh-in, the swordplay will show who is better. Could one say Raisi and disciples of Ayatollah Mesbah have lost control or shall we think that the recently-emerged Principlist would not easily give up on the power achieved, represented in his self-proclaimed leadership over 16 million voters? It is a full-fledged war. Other signs would soon come out.
* This piece was originally published in pro-Rouhani Entekhab website.