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WikiLeaks: 2008-03-13: 08IRANRPODUBAI12: Iran: Election Eve Observations

by WikiLeaks. 08IRANRPODUBAI12: March 13, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 11:54 AM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08IRANRPODUBAI12 2008-03-13 16:50 SECRET Iran RPO Dubai
DE RUEHDIR #0012/01 0731650
P R 131650Z MAR 08
E.O. 12958: DECL:  3/13/2018 
RPO DUBAI 00000012  001.2 OF 004 
CLASSIFIED BY: Jillian Burns,  Director, Iran Regional Presence 
Office, DoS. 
REASON: 1.4 (d) 
 1.(C) Summary: With reformers largely vetted out of the March 
14 Iranian Majles elections, the main competition is between 
hardline conservatives loosely associated with President 
Ahmadinejad, and the more pragmatic conservatives associated 
with former National Security Council secretary Larijani, former 
IRGC commander Rezaie, and Tehran mayor Qalibaf.  The two main 
conservative coalitions are the United Front of Principle-ists 
(UFP) which is comprised of ultra-right hardline groups, and the 
Broad and Popular Coalition of Principle-ists (BPCP), which 
comprises the more pragmatic traditional conservative groups. 
Although UFP contains some groups that support Ahmadinejad, it 
also includes some of his conservative critics, such as Majles 
speaker Haddad-Adel, Deputy Majles speaker Bahonar, and the head 
of the Majles Research Center Tavakkoli.  IRPO contacts expect 
that the pragmatic conservatives will do well at the polls on 
Friday and expressed mixed views about whether there was a 
significant difference in the platforms of the two conservative 
groups.  If the BPCP dominates these elections as expected, they 
may use the Majles forum to step up their criticism of 
Ahmadinejad and prepare ground for the 2009 presidential 
elections, although their ideological platform does not appear 
to differ greatly from the ultra-right.  That said, some 
analysts have indicated they could seek better relations with 
the international community.  End summary. 
Reformers-a spent force 
2.(C) Having been heavily vetted out of the Majles elections by 
the Interior Ministry and Guardian Council and facing 
allegations of being Western lackeys, Iran's reformers are 
essentially not competitive in the March 14 Majles elections. 
The main reformist coalition, which includes two of the largest 
reformist parties--the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF, 
also called Mosharekat) and the Mojahideen of the Islamic 
Revolution (MIRO)--will reportedly only be able to contest 90 of 
the 290 Majles seats.  Former Majles speaker Mehdi Karrubi's 
National Trust Party (also called National Confidence Party) 
announced that it can contest 160 seats.  The three reformist 
lists for Tehran have several names in common.  The news organ 
of the National Trust Party, Etemad-e-Melli, reported March 9 
that its party shares 15 names in common with the Reformist 
Coalition list, and 18 names in common with the Popular 
Reformist Coalition, which is close to the National Trust party 
and run by Mehdi Karrubi's wife Fatemeh. 
3.(C) In the last week before the elections, conservatives have 
stepped up attacks against reformers.  Contact with Western 
diplomats and claims of expressions of support from the US 
administration have exposed Iran's reformers to accusations of 
disloyalty.  Hardline daily Keyhan attacked former deputy Majles 
speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami this week for meeting with the 
German ambassador to Tehran.  According to AFP, Keyhan printed a 
purported partial transcript of the conversation in which 
Khatami expressed concerns about the Iranian nuclear program and 
the Majles elections.  Foreign ministry spokesman Hosseini 
accused the US administration this week of trying to undermine 
Iranian national unity through statements of support for 
"certain political movements" (i.e. reformers).  Intelligence 
Minister Ejei accused reformist MP Noureddin Pirmoazzen of 
treason for a March 9 interview on Voice of America in which the 
MP  criticized the disqualifications of reformist candidates 
from the elections.  (Comment: These high-profile attacks 
against reformers on the eve of the elections may be intended to 
paper over the appearance of conservative disunity caused by 
pre-election infighting.  They may also be designed to woo 
undecided voters to the conservative side by portraying 
reformers as traitors to the nation. End comment.) 
4.(S) In any case, reformers in their current form are viewed by 
some as a spent force in Iran.  One analyst said the reformers 
were too focused on appearing the victim to be able to project 
an image of strength.  He criticized reformers for not reaching 
out to the lower-middle class, even as many in the provinces had 
become disenchanted with the president for not living up to 
promises made on his visits.  The source said that in some 
cases, Ahmadinejad's promises were left unfulfilled, in others 
the results were mismanaged.   This analyst had written off the 
RPO DUBAI 00000012  002.2 OF 004 
reformist IIIPF (Mosharekat) but thought the National Trust 
Party may fare better.   He noted that some reformist candidates 
chose voluntarily to opt out of elections. 
Conservatives-internecine squabbling 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
5. (S) Internal squabbling prevented the conservatives-who 
increasingly refer to themselves as principle-ists-from unifying 
on a single electoral list.  The two main conservative 
coalitions are the United Front of Principle-ists (UFP, also 
called United Fundamentalist Front) which is comprised of 
ultra-right groups, and the Broad and Popular Coalition of 
Principle-ists (BPCP, also called Comprehensive Coalition of 
Principle-ists), which comprises the more pragmatic traditional 
conservative groups.  A third coalition called the Progressive 
Principle-ist Front was created by former Intelligence Minister 
Ali Fallahian, according to domestic press reports.  Fallahian 
was reportedly first allied with the UFP, but broke with them in 
mid-February after UFP reportedly declined to include him on 
their electoral list.   The Tehran-based analyst predicted that 
an increasing number of former intelligence officials were 
likely to enter politics. 
6. (S) The UFP has been associated in the press with President 
Ahmadinejad, and although it does contain some groups that 
support him, it also includes some of his conservative critics, 
such as Majles speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, Majles Research 
Center head Ahmad Tavakkoli, Deputy Majles speaker Mohammad Reza 
Bahonar, and MP Elias Naderan.  (Note: Tavakkoli's public 
criticism of the UFP list was mistakenly reported in RPO Dubai 
0008 as his separation from the UFP list. Endnote.)  The BPCP is 
associated with former National Security Council secretary 
Larijani, former IRGC commander Rezaie, and Tehran mayor 
Qalibaf, who represent the more technocratic and pragmatic 
conservatives.  Ayatollah Mahdavi-Kani, the influential head of 
the conservative Militant Clergy Association, failed in his 
attempts to unify the conservatives and ultimately supported the 
UFP.  One Tehran-based analyst told IRPOffs that it was 
significant that such an influential regime figure as 
Mahdavi-Kani was unable to unify the conservative groups. He 
implied that although divisions are deeper than they appear, the 
divisions were not for the most part policy differences.  When 
asked why Bahonar would join the UFP list, given his clear 
differences with the president, the analyst said that 
longstanding social ties in Iranian society often trump 
ideological differences.  A Western diplomat posted in Tehran 
also assessed that these divisions among conservatives are due 
largely to personality differences and disagreements over 
elections planning than to any ideological or major policy 
differences among conservatives. 
7.(S)  The Tehran-based analyst suggested that Larijani opted to 
run from Qom in order not to challenge (and potentially 
embarrass) Haddad-Adel, who leads both conservative lists.  A 
US-based Iranian political analyst said separately that he 
thought Larijani ran from Qom only because he felt he would get 
a stronger electoral mandate there than in Tehran, given that 
Larijani's father was a Qom-based ayatollah and seminary 
lecturer.  If both Larijani and Haddad-Adel are elected, it will 
be noteworthy whether Larijani will try to challenge Haddad Adel 
for the position of Majles speaker.  Both analysts thought that 
it was likely that Haddad-Adel would run for president in 2009, 
and Larijani would then succeed him as Majles speaker. 
8.(S) The economy is the biggest campaign issue for candidates 
from all political groups, with official statistics putting 
inflation at over 20%.  Many conservatives are attempting to 
distance themselves from President Ahmadinejad and his failed 
economic policies by criticizing the government's economic 
performance, and calling for different economic policies.  The 
US-based analyst said that the competition for seats in the 
provinces and rural areas is focused more on local issues than 
national political trends, but that in the large 
cities-particularly Tehran-the competition is almost entirely 
about national-level politics, especially the economy. 
Electoral procedures and campaigning 
--------------------------------------------- - 
9.(U) The electoral procedures for the Iranian Majles elections 
contain some elements of proportional representation, but 
RPO DUBAI 00000012  003.2 OF 004 
Iranians ultimately will cast their votes for individual 
candidates, although they can opt to select a list in its 
entirety.  The electoral lists that have been compiled by the 
various political groupings are, in essence, voting guides.  For 
example, Iran's most important electoral constituency, Tehran, 
has 30 seats in the Majles.  On election day, each Tehran 
resident chooses 30 candidates from among the reported 827 
candidates who are running in Tehran.   Once the results are 
tallied, the seats go to the 30 candidates who received the most 
votes.  Interior Minister Purmohammadi said March 13 that the 
Interior Ministry hopes to have final elections results before 
the Iranian new year (Nowruz) on March 21.  According to Iranian 
press, if a second round of polling is required, those elections 
may not take place until late April or early May. 
10.(U) These elections will see the introduction of some 
computerized counting.  Deputy Interior Minister Mousapour told 
Iranian press that there will be electronic vote counting 
alongside hand counting, in order to test the electronic vote 
counting technology.  Reportedly, voters can choose to vote with 
either a paper or an electronic ballot. 
11.(S) Of the 290 seats in the Majles, five are set aside for 
representatives of Iran's recognized religious minorities: two 
seats for Armenian Christians, and one seat each for Assyrian 
Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians.  Polling is reportedly held 
in community centers or places of worship of the respective 
communities.  There has been little press coverage of those 
races.  The US-based Iranian analyst asserted that the choice of 
representatives for these communities is generally decided among 
the respective communities before the elections, and the vote is 
essentially a formality. 
12.(U) Apart from limiting official campaign time to the week 
prior to the elections, the government has introduced additional 
restrictions, including banning the placement of photos or 
posters in public places.  Photos are reportedly only permitted 
in fliers that are handed out during election week.  There were 
also rumors that the Internet would be blocked on election day, 
which Interior Minister Purmohammadi denied, although a 
reformist press website Norooz reported on March 11 that Yahoo 
email and chat services were blocked by several internet service 
13.(S) IRPO contacts report that public interest in the 
elections is minimal.  One Iranian reform-minded political 
science professor said the timing of the elections-one week 
before Iran's biggest holiday, Nowruz-has contributed to this. 
People are too busy shopping, cleaning their homes, and visiting 
relatives to pay much attention to the elections, he said.  He 
said he was so disenchanted with the election that for the first 
time, he would not vote. 
Electoral interference? 
14.(S) IRPO contacts seem widely to expect that there will be 
some degree of electoral interference.  Contacts almost 
invariably assume there will be a strong presence of Basij 
forces at polling stations and suggest that other unspecified 
interference is possible.  The acting commander of the Basij, 
Hossein Taeb, was quoted in the Iranian press in late February 
saying that Basij should have a "maximum presence" in the 
elections.  The Supreme Leader's representative to the Basij 
also said in press articles that the Basij should play an 
important role in "preparing the ground for the maximum 
participation of the people."  When asked why IRGC Commander 
Jafari would have openly called for support for principle-ist 
candidates, one analyst suggested that Iranians in the public 
sphere have a hard time remembering that their remarks reach 
other audiences than the one in front of them. 
15.(S) When asked how authorities may try to manipulate votes in 
this election, the Tehran-based political analyst asserted that 
there was low likelihood of overt technical interference in the 
elections, but that local Basij leaders, clerics, and other 
opinion leaders would exert influence in support of various 
conservative candidates.  (Comment:  Given that both 
conservative groups have factional support from the IRGC, it is 
not clear which group would benefit most from IRGC/Basij 
meddling.  End comment)  The US-based Iranian analyst said that 
Majles candidates in the provinces often receive funds for 
unofficial campaigning (e.g. hosting dinners for religious 
RPO DUBAI 00000012  004.2 OF 004 
ceremonies, helping the destitute, paying people's debts, etc.) 
from organizations in Tehran, such as the bonyads, the IRGC, and 
others with which they might be affiliated.  He noted the 
dominance of economic discourse in the campaigns, citing an 
article this week in the conservative Jomhuri-ye-Eslami 
newspaper which criticized candidates for not talking about 
Islam enough.  According to the article, there are very few 
clerics running in these Majles elections compared to previous 
rounds and that even the list of one of the best known clerical 
organizations in Iran (not named) has only about 6% clerics on 
the list.  The article predicts a downward trend of clerical 
participation in the future. 
16.(S) Comment:  Iranian elections often yield surprising 
results; however, if the Broad and Popular Coalition of 
Principle-ists dominate the election as many observers have 
predicted, they may use the forum of the Majles to step up their 
criticism of President Ahmadinejad and lay the groundwork for a 
Qalibaf presidency.  As laid out in reftel, electoral dominance 
by this group is unlikely to result in major immediate shifts in 
Iranian policy.  However, their presence in the Majles-and 
willingness to criticize the president--could act as a 
counterweight to the ultra-rightists in the current 
administration.  The Tehran-based analyst predicted that 
pragmatic conservatives would take control of the Majles this 
year and the presidency next year.  He said that judging by 
Qalibaf's positive and technocratic leadership of the Tehran 
municipality, this analyst reasoned that a Qalibaf presidency 
could eventually produce more pragmatic shifts in policy and 
increased outreach to the West and the international community. 
That said, one Western diplomat posted in Tehran asserted that 
the pragmatic conservatives are vulnerable to accusations of not 
being sufficiently revolutionary, and may feel obliged to adjust 
their statements accordingly.  In any case, ultimate policy 
decisions will remain in the hands of the Supreme Leader. 


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