As Iranians returned to work after the new Persian calendar year began some two weeks ago, the June 14 presidential election is the main subject of the talk among the country’s media and officials. And since the country’s leader ayatollah Khamenei labeled this year to be the “year of the political epic,” most authorities try to use the term as much as possible in their public talks, indicating their loyalty to the regime and its leadership.
Among them is Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, the commander of the Basij para-military force who is a very close associate of Khamenei and who has been widely held responsible for the many atrocities committed in the unrest that followed the controversial 2009 presidential election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency.
Naghdi made these remarks during a speech he gave last week to Basij members from Khuzestan province. But he went beyond merely quoting Khamenei’s words and announced that he expected “suspicious murders” to take place on the eve of the June voting, remarks that immediately brought forth alarms in the country’s political circles and sites close to the Green Movement which was born in the aftermath of the 2009 elections and whose leaders are still either in prison, under house arrest, or have fled the country.
His remarks were a contrast to the pacifying image that the government media and state officials are continuously spreading to convey the message that the presidential race and voting which is to take place in about 10 weeks will be very secure, safe and peaceful. Security and intelligence officials in Iran, including the commander of the law enforcement forces, have been boasting that they have enacted policies that would bring forth such a secure environment for the elections. But the measures that have been enacted so far tell a different story. More restrictions have been imposed for accessing sites in the country’s blogosphere as more independent journalists have been arrested in the past few weeks and months.
According to Iran’s ISNA student news agency Naghdi has said, in his latest comments, that “The enemy has included suspicious murders in its plans with the purpose of disrupting the upcoming elections. It has devised extensive psychological plans to prevent the political epic from taking place for which it has also mobilized all its media and political organizations. It has used psychological warfare and has even taken advantage of the atmosphere that has been created over the current nuclear talks. It has devised plans for suspicious murders such as those that took place during the 2009 sedition and it is utilizing all its power to disrupt the election, or to dissuade participation as much as possible.” Sedition is the term Iran’s rulers use to refer to the massive protests against the official announced results of the 2009 elections.
In his talk, Naghdi also mentioned the “weakest candidate” in the election and claimed that at the least, “the enemy” wanted to isolate the best candidate while promoting the weakest. “The enemy’s goal is for the weakest candidate to win the election in the hope that they can overwhelm him in the political and economic battles. But our big political epic event is to hold secure, peaceful and grand elections with the maximum number of participants,” he said.
News sites close to Ahmadinejad’s government, which has in recent years built its own foes inside the regime, interpreted these remarks as preparations for the assassination of Isfandiar Rahim Mashai, the president’s 52-year-old chief of staff. Mashai is viewed by some to be the core of the dispute between president Ahmadinejad and the conservative establishment in the country because of his views, which contain elements of nationalism, not something that the religious establishment favors.
Roshanai website, for example, reported on Naghdi’s speech and wrote, “When a military commander speaks of an inclined candidate and then about suspicious murders, one must realize that an event is on its way. But this event shall pass like the lie they announced on the thirteen day of the New Year. On that day they sent text messages announcing the assassination and death of the man of spring.”
The reference is to a news announcement on April 2nd, a national holiday in Iran, but which was later withdrawn. According to Baztab website a blogger on that day wrote that “Radio Javan had announced that Isfandiar Rahim Mashai had been assassinated on his way to the presidency and had died on the way to the hospital. Iran’s State radio and television has not yet confirmed the news.” Baztab wrote that the news was either the work of the Ahmadinejad-Mashai faction to remain in the limelight or a new game by Israel.”
Naghdi’s comments have created anxiety in Iran’s social media over the fate of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, Green Leaders who have been under house arrest since early 2011. Supporters of former president Mohammad Khatami who may run in June viewed the rumors similar to the famous editorial that Kayhan published in 2001 during Khatami’s campaign for his second term which also had written about him having been assassinated.
But this new anxiety was not limited to what Naghdi said about the possibility of an assassination or a “suspicious murder.” Kalameh website affiliated with the reformists, has reported that another representative of ayatollah Khamenei in the Basij cleric Toosarkani has openly thrown his support for a specific political faction and has told Basij militiamen, “The Basij must not only play the greatest role in creating this epic, but it must also act effectively in creating a new wave. The heavy responsibility of creating a political and economic epic lies with the Basij and its militiamen. The Basij must be at the center in the creation of the political epic. That the enemy wants the Basij to be neutral, something that even some people in the country are also towing, is a betrayal to the previous Imam (i.e. ayatollah Khomeini), the current Imam (ayatollah Khamenei) and also the revolution. We are the Basij and proudly announce that we support principlism. Principlism is different from the principlists. Principlism means belief and practical commitment to Islam, the constitution, the ideals of the Imam, the martyrs and a practical commitment to the velayate faghih (i.e., rule of the clerics).” In his talk, he also claimed that the Basij had not engaged in supporting any political faction but that it merely “broadcasts the words of the revered Imam and the current Imam. “If we explain the values advanced by the velayat (i.e., supreme clerical authority), such as the strengths of the current administration and not advance its weaknesses, then the grounds for electing the best by the people will have been prepared.”
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