Iranian Reformists – “Reforms are Dead, Long Live Reforms!”


This time last year, a month before the June 2021 presidential election, Iranian “reformists” were still hoping that one of them would win the election.

It only took them a few days to discover that the Council of Guardians, or in other words Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, had other plans for the future of the country.

The Council under Khamenei’s supervision rejected almost all reformists and even moderate conservative candidatesanything but securing the election of the hardliners’ favorite candidate, Ebrahim Raisi.

Although two of the final candidates, former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati and former governor general of Khorasan province Mohsen Mehralizadeh, liked to be called “reformists”, few politicians, let alone voters, recognize them as such. Some reformists have even considered forming coalitions with moderate conservative figures such as dormer speaker of the Majles (parliament) Ali Larijani and former lawmaker Ali Motahari.

Today, after a year, some of them still enjoy occasional media coverage while others are absolutely silent and do not wish to be remembered as former candidates.

Former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

The reformists’ first choice for the post, former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif never stood as a candidate. Since then, he has been seen at two Ramadan banquets at the presidential office and at Khamenei’s headquarters. Currently, he teaches at the University of Tehran and his political career seems to have come to an end after he uploaded in a leaked tape in April 2020 that the former commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, took his orders from Russia.

One of the most likely candidates, former Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, who lost popularity after his brother was charged and imprisoned for financial corruption, has come under attack from extremists in the new government and Majles who blamed it for economic problems. He was never a candidate either.

Former deputy interior minister Mostafa Tajzadeh strongly opposed the government ahead of the elections and was well received by young reformists. However, in the end, he decided that neither he nor anyone else should run for president to protest the unilateral and widespread disqualification of pro-reform candidates by the Guardian Council.

Former Deputy Minister Mosatfa Tajzadeh who has become a vocal critic of extremists

Massoud Pezeshkian, a Tabriz lawmaker and outspoken critic of former presidents Hassan Rouhani and Raisi, was disqualified by the Guardian Council. He currently runs the Ensaf News site.

Mohammad Reza Aref, who was harshly criticized for his distance and silence as leader of the reform faction in the previous Majles, did not run and remained silent after the 2021 elections. Mohsen Hashemi, the president of the Tehran city council, seems to have given up his political career and is currently editing the memoirs of his father, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Last week he complained that the Ministry of Culture had censored much of the latest volume.

Mostafa Kavakebian, the leader of the tiny reformist Mardom Salari party, continues to publish his newspaper under the same name but seems to be undecided between criticizing Raisi or placating him in the hope of receiving some favours.

Regardless of the strict opposition of clerics and hardliners to female presidential candidates, former vice presidents Shahindokht Molaverdi and Zahra Shojaee were nominated for the post but were disqualified by the Guardian Council. Molaverdi is currently working as a notary and Shojaee is in bed with cancer. Both actively tried to expand women’s rights.

Mohammad Sadeq Kharrazi, a relative of Khamenei, former senior diplomat and leader of the Neda party quit politics without any explanation.

However, part of the reform camp, mostly to the right of the center Kargozaran party, does not seem affected by disillusionment and despair. Like party leader Hossein Marashi said in a recent interview“We know there are limits, but there is no other path for us than political struggle.” Marashi is famous for his motto: “Reforms are dead, long live reforms!”


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