Six months ahead of a vote that will end to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contentious presidency, talk of elections has already prompted top-level controversies in Tehran. This week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asked officials not to make statements insinuating that previous elections were not free. The 73-year-old was speaking to a group of devout crowds from the holy city of Qom. In his speech, Khamenei criticised senior politicians who have indirectly cast doubt on the fairness of Iran’s electoral record.
The Islamic republic does not tolerate criticism of its election process and the two main opposition leaders who claimed the 2009 presidential vote was rigged, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were put under house arrest. Officials critical of the election process, therefore, tend to express misgivings opaquely.
In recent months, a number of leading figures have said the presidential election in June would only be competitive and lively if it were to be held “freely”.
Among the officials who are believed to be the target of Khamenei’s stern warning is Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and one of the country’s great political survivors. He presides over Iran’s expediency council which mediates between the parliament and the guardian council, a body of clerics and jurists that vets candidates before any election.
In September, as public debate over the impact of international sanctions on Iran’s economy escalated, Rafsanjani said holding “free elections” would bring the country out of its current stalemate and avert threats of war that have been looming over the Islamic republic.