Corps and the electoral periods: Politics and Militarism

Corps and the electoral periods: Politics and Militarism


 Kambiz Ghafouri, journalist and political analyst, analyses the Corps’ activities in recent election as following:

The presumption of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps involvement in elections for the first time was typically heard during the Iran’s presidential election in 2005. In this regard the presidential election periods could be divided into two periods; prior to Ahmadinejad’s Presidency and After Ahmadinejad’s Presidency, however this is not the whole story. The article explores the role of IRGC in different periods of elections in Iran, especially the presidential elections and examines various comments about the Corps’ interfere in politics.

Corps and the electoral periods: Politics and Militarism
Corps and the electoral periods: Politics and Militarism

First period, the exception

The interim government engaged in the post-revolutionary thrill before accomplishing its transmitting duty of rendering the government to an elected president. Mehdi Bazargan presented his resignation to Ayatollah Khomeini, pointing out the “interference, harassments, oppositions and disagreements” that caused his “colleagues and him impossible to continue their entrusted duties”. Bazargan also pointed out his earlier frequent explanations on this matter in his resignation letter to Ayatollah Khomeini.

Mentioning three particular duties of the Revolutionary Council, Ayatollah Khomeini addresses its responsibility as “handling and managing the affaires of the interim government” in response to Bazargan’s resignation. He mentions the Council’s three essential duties as: “making arrangements for the Constitution’s referendum; making arrangements for National Council election (Islamic Council); and doing the preliminaries to determine the President.”[1]

Thus, the first presidential election was held in the absence of an independent government to hold it; the Guardian Council was not responsible to do the disqualifications; and the Revolutionary Guard was a newly stablished organization. Due to the lack of disqualification filtering, the presidential election is considered as the only relatively free election in whole life of the Islamic Republic, ending by Abolhassan Banisadr being selected.


Interfering Ayatollah Khomeini; Bani Sadr’s dismissal and IRGC’s exultation

As it mentioned above, the Guardian Council did not filter the qualification of the candidates and none of them was disqualified during the first presidential election. However Ayatollah Khomeini directly interfered at least in one case. He did not consider Masoud Rajavi, the leader of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) qualified for the presidential nomination due to Rajavi’s refusal to vote for the Constitution.

Khomeini’s intervention in the elections affairs was not so obvious early after the revolution. Nevertheless he had warned the Council about appointments and dismissals in some cases. Ezatollah Sahabi writes:  “Mr. Khomeini absolutely objected the presence of three people in executive positions and when the Revolutionary Council delayed it due to a lack of time or their replacement issues, Imam emphasized that he would announce it.” These three people were Dr. Kazem Sami, the Health Minister of the Bazargan government and the candidate of the first presidential election, Taher Ahmad Zadeh, the first governor of Khorasan after the revolution, and Reza Esfahani, designer and manager of the Joint Cooperatives. According to Ezatollah Sahabi, these people were” Left-wing Politics, running Socialistic programs in Iran.”[2]

Removal of Bani-Sadr caused by Ayatollah Khomeini’s bias and interferences in favor of the Islamic Republic Party was the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ first joy for implementing changes in the political authorities of the country. Yahya Rahim Safavi, the Commander in chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (1997-2007) says that at the beginning of the war, when he was a young “48 Kg man” double tying his military belt around his waist, Bani-Sadr did not allow him and Hassan  Bagheri to meetings of the Supreme Council of Defense; therefore they had to request Ali Khamenei to let them in.[3] The Corps Commanders annoyed that Bani Sadr did not entrusted them the war affairs due to being inexperienced in military affairs.  Bani Sadr’s opposition to entrusting the war affairs to Corps and other new agencies is significant in Akbar Rafsanjani’s words in 1981. He says: “The last shot in hearing about Bani Sadr’s adequacy was hit by the president himself. He bravely questioned all the authorities and the revolutionary organizations.” [4]


Second to sixth period; Competition or sympathy show?

“Whether it was right or wrong, Bani-Sadr’s removal caused the government to be consistent.” Commander Rashid, one of the first members of the Political Office of the Revolutionary Guards said in an interview with “Iranian history” website. [5] The integration followed by suppressing all oppositions and critical thinking continued for five consecutive presidential elections. After dismissal of Bani Sadr the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic Party, Mohammad Ali Rajaei, imposed by his cabinet, became the presidential main candidate. His verified rivals, Abbas Sheybani a member of Freedom Movement, Akbar Parvaresh, as well as Habib Asgaroladi, Motalefeh members, were not serious competitors.  As it was expected, Rajaei won the election with 90% of the presidential votes. Rajaei’s presidential period lasted for only 28 days; it was ended by an explosion in his office and his death.

Ali Khamenei, a member of the Islamic Republic Party, was the main candidate during the third presidential period. The fact that all his three rivals were from the same party (Motalefeh) indicates that Motalefeh Party also knew there would not be a competitive election. Almost all of the authorities including the “Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom”, “Society of Combatant Clergy” and “Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization” were supporting Ali Khamenei. He won the election in 1981 with 95 percentages of the votes and remained on the presidential seat for four years later, winning his rivals Mahmoud Kashani and Habibollah Asgaroladi.

After Ayatollah Khomeini’s death and selecting Ali Khamenei as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, the main candidate of the fifth presidential election was Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, one of the most powerful individuals at that time.  During the fifth period of presidential election Khamenei had just one rival who neither did significant advertising nor specific comments.  It was even rumored that when some supporter groups went to meet with Rafsanjani’s rival, Akbar Parvaresh had said that he also would vote for Hashemi Rafsanjani! Finally Hashemi Rafsanjani won the election with %94 of the votes and Parvaresh earned %3 of the votes.

However the sixth period was the forerunner for scattering the votes. While Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “made a rival to impassionate the election”, an anonymous figure, Ahmad Tavakoli earned 24 percentages of the votes.  On Sunday, June 12, 1993, he wrote in his diary “I was in my office at 8:30. The definitive statistics of the election were announced. My votes seemed to me little and bitter.”[6]


The seventh and eighth periods; the Corps worries

Increasing gap between rich and poor in the society, creating a new class of capitalists, and the bloody repression of political opponents inside and outside the country were the outcome of the “Reconstruction Government”. Looking for the revolutionary social justice, the social dissatisfaction was shown by people depositing 24 percentages of their votes for Ahmad Tavakoli in 1993.

The seventh presidential elections in 1997 had another phenomenon as well. The newly consistent government found the opportunity of updating its inner power rivalries. Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri was the only famous figure among the four eligible candidates. While IRIB was broadcasting him every day as the president of Parliament, Mohammad Khatami who turned to be his serious competitor did not have any particular social reputation in 1996.

“But both figures were well known for the authorities; the clerics more than the others! Everything was based on the old gap in the governance that had split the Clergymen ridden on the waves of revolution during the following years.”[7] The gap had split the Society of Combatant Clerics from the Assembly of Combatant Clergymen and separated Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, Mohammad Khatami, Sadegh Khalkhali, Mahmoud Doaei and others from Hashemi Rafsanjani, Nategh Nouri and other Right-Wing clerics since 1988.  A rumor of someone’s disagreement with the regime’s mainstream was enough to attract the public concerns that due to the sever disapprobation toward the social and economic situation of those years, they were looking for an opportunity for a breakthrough in their living. “The fact that the regime and the supreme Leader were in favor of Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri and against Mohammad Khatami, unbelievably turned the anonymous “Seyyed” to a face who also earned a “No” vote from a war-experienced dissatisfied community crushed under the economic wheels, to the economic development plans of Mr. Hashemi.” [8] The usage of opponents and protesters from the obtained opportunity and getting together behind the reform slogan of the new government was not something that IRIG ignores it. They were not those 48 kg-youths any more double tying the military belt around their waist.  The economic contracts and military privileges had lifted their weight!


Corps threatening Khatami; from writing letter to a “semi-coup” in Imam Airport

Following the attack to Tehran University Dormitory (Kooye Daneshgah) in 1999, the first public action of Corps’ commanders was writing a threatening letter to Mohammad Khatami, the time president. 24 Corps’ commanders complained about their “tied hands”, writing: “we are at our ends and in case of not investigating, we are not going to tolerate it anymore.[9] Esmaeil Kousari, the time Commander of Division 27 of Mohammad Rasoul Allah talked about the letter and the “tied hands” on Channel Three of IRIB in “Shenasnameh” talk show and said: “Due to the critical situation caused by the protesting students in July 1999 we were said that we were not allowed to take part in these issues. We believed that the Police needed the Corps’ assistance but the National Security Council did not permit us; finally by releasing that letter the decision of entering the Corps was made and without any hammer and tongs there was peace in all over Tehran in 24 hours.” [10]

The saber rattling did not end to a letter. On May 15, 2004, opening the first phase of Imam Airport, suddenly under the pretext that foreign companies should not be involved in its management, the Corps’ army and air forces took action and conquered the runway flying their aircrafts at the same time to stop landing the first plane.

Years later, Ahmad Khorram, Minister of Khatami’s Government who was present for the opening ceremony at the airport, talked about the Government’s “begging” the commanders of the revolutionary guard that day saying: “Unfortunately that day, the Minister of Culture of Oman also was in the same flight. They had a very rude behavior toward him; he was pulled out of the airport’s restroom taking him to a room. After that I apologized him for ten minutes… This story created such a controversy that caused a wide negative reaction toward the country for a long time. “[11] This story happened a year before 2005 presidential election.



Was Ahmadinejad a product of the Corps’ first intervention in election?

The ninth presidential election took place in which the reformists had three representatives: Mehdi Karroubi, Mustafa Moein and Mohsen Mehr Alizadeh; however after the initial disqualification of Moein and Mehr Alizadeh by the Guardian Council their qualification was confirmed by Ayatollah Khamenei’s State decree.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and Ali Larijani were conservative candidates and, of course, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was the familiar candidate in that election. The ninth presidential election was the first election in the Islamic Republic history that the candidates contested the second round and finally Mahmoud Ahmadinejad obtaining over 61 % of the votes defeated Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Previous to that, in the sixth parliamentary election, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was heavily defeated by the reformists. Although he could enter the parliament as the last representative, he withdrew. But two candidates objected the outcome of the ninth presidential elections. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani implicitly mentioned: “I seek God’s protection.” but Mehdi Karroubi objected even the result of the first round and wrote a letter to Ali Khamenei complaining about the Revolutionary Guard and Basij interference in the election. [12]

Receiving a harsh response from Khamenei, Karroubi resigned from the Advisor of Supreme Leader and the expediency Council membership in June 2005. A day before his resignation, in an interview with media he accused the elements of IRGC of attending at polling and counting stations and distorting the election in favor of the time mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.[13] It was reasonable; Karroubi and Rafsanjani were members of the Islamic regime’s inner circles for years and had  the most special connections and  resources. Commander Mohammad Bagher Zolghder, a commander of the Revolutionary Guards, in July 2005 congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying that in this election must act “complicated” and “correctly planned and multi-layered”.[14] Zolghadr acquired the vice presidency of Military-Security Affairs of Iran’s Interior Ministry under the supervision of  the Minister of the time, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi. Although Zolghadr’s words and similar expressions was not necessarily an endorsement of the Guards’ intervention in the election, but it provoked debates on constitutional aspects of it.


2009: Two candidates prepared to confront with Corps’ intervention

The dispute of the10th presidential election in 2009 is unprecedented in history of holding presidential election in Islamic Republic. Allegation of electoral fraud and IRGC and Basij forces’ intervention in favor of Ahmadinejad against Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi prompted a wave of accusations. Considering Karroubi’s experience in 2005, it was obvious that he would be fully-prepared to protect his votes. Shortly before announcing his nomination he said in an interview: “I don’t think this election is going to occur without problem; having all the country’s economic resources in the current government (Ahmadinejad) the Corps is not willing to surrender it. Choosing someone and then asking him to monitor and prevent the Corps from interfering in politics, supervising and auditing what they already have! They don’t allow it! It is actually very difficult now. They should not allow this to happen.”

In response to the question: “who should not allow them?” Karroubi implicitly had pointed to the Supreme Leader saying: “they could stop them; well you remember in the election (2005) I had the most votes in 15 provinces but after taking a short nap I realized that everything is out of the control of  election headquarter. Then I wrote a letter and mentioned the role of Sir Mojtaba [Khamenei]. If they believed the danger which threatened the election it would not be like this.”[15]

Before the election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi also wrote a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying: “There are some evidences of intervention in the election by a number of Basij and IRGC’s officials and commanders. Since the extent of the illegal activities is not clear and some of the members of polling stations and observers have been chosen from their certain candidate’s supporters therefore the possibility of capturing in people’s vote is disturbing the public minds.”[16]

Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi’s denial of accepting the election result, as well as their believe in what they called as a “massive fraud in the election”, was led to street demonstrations, repression, detention, torturing and killing several protesters and eventually it ended to the house arrest of Karroubi, Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard. But did Basij and IRGC interfere in the election?


Corps commanders’ statements; self-defeating or a power show?

Following the protests against the controversial election in 2009, the Corps commanders made remarks on some issues that could be considered as a confirmation, or at least their willingness of interfering in the presidential elections. A Commander of IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari, in a speech that seemed to be in a familiar and private gathering, disclosing its video in later years, said  that the Corps’ red line was re-electing the Second of Khordad Movement politicians (Reformists) and due to the same reason they insisted on the Revolutionary Guards and Basij not taking part in the election. He noted: “The concern and red line for the revolutionary forces was that the opposing groups of the revolution and its values had the chance of sovereignty in Second of Khordad to be elected again.”

Jafari continued: “During the election and its after events, it became obvious that why they insisted on the Corps and Basij forces absolutely not taking part in the election. We should not take part so that they could fulfill their dreams and Basij and Corps do not bother them at all. This was an apprehensive process and everyone analyzed if this situation had continued, then there would be a second round of election, and in the second round it was unclear what the outcome would be.”[17] As well as that, Ali Saeidi, the Corps’ Representative of the Supreme Leader said at the same meeting that one of the Corps’ decoding was about Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech about his closer opinion with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Saeidi assumed that saying “No to Ahmadinejad” is against the willing of the leader of Islamic Republic; he said: “Everyone must be under the command of leadership “. He continued:” Election is an intimidation against the revolution, especially in the form of orange situation. If the election had a normal or yellow situation, there was no need for Corps to get worried. Depending on orange or red situation, the role and responsibility of IRGC and Basij must be separated to after and before the election.” [18] Later Saeidi said that IRGC does not factually take part in the elections, but it defines the framework and criteria and this does not mean interfering in the elections. He stated that the essential task of the Corps is “reasonable engineering of elections.”[19]


Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s current authorities; Elections and military

On March 15, 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini stated: “If the army or Revolutionary Guards or any other armed forces involve in a party, it would be the end of the army. Do not join groups; do not join parties. In fact your religious duty is either joining the parties or the army…basically involving with parties is forbidden for army, the Corps, military forces and police; it leads them corruption.”[20] As well as that, Ayatollah Khomeini in a separate paragraph wrote in his will to the armed forces: “I strongly recommend armed forces, including military, police, the Revolutionary Guards, and Basij and etc. absolutely don’t take part in any party and keep themselves far from political games…… It is necessary that commanders forbid the people under their command from involving with any parties.”

He also emphasized: “If the armed forces, the commanders and the upper level commanders want to operate anything against the interests of Islam and the country or get involve in the parties- which definitely ends to corruption-, the religious and homeland duty of the government and people and Defense Council and Parliament, is to oppose it at the very first step. The leader and the leadership Council also have to prevent it strongly.”[21]

However it does not seem that this statement changes the supporters’ opinion of Guards’ intervention in political affairs. In 2011, Ahmad Alamolhoda, Friday Prayer of Mashhad and the Supreme Leader’s Representative in Khorasan said: “Three years ago I have raised the issue in a Mobilization gathering that Basij must take part in the political arena. Then Seyed Hasan Khomeini called me and said: your words are against Imam’s words and Mr. Ansari also said the same, however I answered them at that time.” The member of the Assembly of Experts said that Ayatollah Khomeini had never named Basij on the context of military prohibition. He ignored the aforementioned part of the Islamic Republic’s founder testament and said: “Imam said in his will: my Basij children do not allow the wrong (reactionaries) to influence on the revolution. How can we stop the wrongs but not taking part into the politics?”

Alamolhoda emphasized: “The mission of the Corps and Basij is to protect the revolution and it is impossible to defend the system without taking part in the politics.” [22] The statements of Hossein Radaei, a cleric close to the Corps, were more precise on this issue. He, as a tutor of some classes for the Corps’ personnel said in an interview: “Imam said the Corps is not allowed to interfere in the political issues. It was for a certain period of time; we were in special circumstances during the Sacred Defense. The Corps should spend all its power on security issues protecting the country and security issues. But now we do not have that condition and our current circumstance is soft war.” He mentioned to Ayatollah Khamenei, saying: “Now the time has changed and based on the current situation if the supreme leader recognizes that the presence of the Corps in politics where the delay will be detrimental to Islamic values and achievements of the revolution, It is permissible to get involve in the politics.”[23] But at the first place the Corps was formed with the goal of influencing domestic politics?


Corps, a political organization, war made the Corps military

Perhaps reviewing remarks of Gen. Mohsen Rashid, a member of the Political Bureau of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and a War history researcher, represents a clear image of the political-military structure of the Corps. He says that the Corps was a part of the political stream but not primarily as a military force; the war turned it into a military organization. He stressed: “ The Corps was a part of the political stream in the country belonging to Iman’s fraction (Khat-e Imam). It was known as an important part of the mentioned spectrum…War turned the Corps to militarism and Corps is assumed as a military organization today having an important role in decision-making and implementing the decisions in the last two decades, however there is not a permanent defined role for the Corps in management of the country as well as that, the Corps’ role in the country’s macro administration is not similar to any other models. In the early years of the revolution, the Corps had a strategic role in the country’s macro administration as well. Since I suppose the military organization label was not match with the nature of the Corps at that time, therefore we did not have a military that had a primarily strategic management role in the first years of the war.” [24]


Footnotes and references:

  1. Davood Alibabaei. Twenty-five years in Iran, Tehran, Omid Farda publishing, 2003. Vol.1. pp. 281 and 282.
  2. 2. Ezatollah Sahabi. Half a century of memories and experience. Vol II. Khavaran Publishing, Paris, 2013
  3. 3. Interview with Yahya safavi: Bani Sadr did not let us enter the meetings! The Supreme leader’s website
  4. 4. Interview of Payam-e Enghelab magazine with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Based on volume IV of the book twenty-five years in Iran; Davood Alibabaei, Omid-e Farda publishing, 2005. p. 1383
  5. 5. Interview with Brigadier General Mohsen Rashid, Zahra Safari, Bani Sadr did not betray in war, Iranian History Website, Link
  6. 6. Mehr News Agency, Link
  7. The author’s note and in Tehran Review Website, May 2013. Link
  8. The author’s note and in Tehran Review Website, May 2013. Link
  9. The Corps Commander’s letter to Mohammad Khatami, July,12 , 1999
  10. A summary of Ismail kowsari’s interview in Shenasnameh talk show
  11. How the Corps’ fights stopped the opening of Imam Airport, Ahmad Khoram interview with Kalameh
  12. Karroubi; Two fateful letters, An eleven year-old path, BBC Persian, Link
  13. Radio Farda; June, 04, 2005. Link
  14. Fars News Agency: Link
  15. Corps does not respect the elections; Mehdi Karroubi’s prediction of 2009 election, Link
  16. Mir Hossein Mousavi’s letter to Ayatollah Khamenei. Link
  17. Video published in Mohammad Nourizad’s Facebook page for the first time. Link
  18. Video
  19. The Corps’ representative of Valy-e Faqih interview with ISNA: Corps does not take an extensional part in the election. Link
  20. Ayatollah Khomeini’s Sahifeh (book); Institute of editing and publishing Imam Khomeini’s books; v; vol. 16; pp. 110 and 111.
  21. Testamentary of Ruhollah al-Mousavi al-Khomeini
  22. Link
  23. Link
  24. Interview with Brigadier General Mohsen Safari, Zainab Rashid, Iranian History Website. Link

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