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Iranian press review: Law proposed to allow military generals to run for president

Meanwhile, Iran's education minister faces call for impeachment following 'hasty' schools reopening; and media watchdogs condemn Tehran's latest crackdown on journalists and activists
Iran schools reopening AFP
Mask-clad school children sit while distanced apart from each other on the first day of schools reopening on 5 September in Tehran (AFP)

Move to allow top brass to run for president

A proposed legal amendment has fuelled speculation that Iran’s conservatives politicians are ready to throw their support behind a candidate with a military background in next year’s presidential elections, as the country looks for ways to tackle US President Donald Trump’s heavy-handed approach towards the Islamic Republic.

Last week, the conservative-majority parliament introduced a proposal to change the definition of “Rajol Siasi” - meaning political figure, or statesman - in electoral law in order to include military personnel, according to Iran’s official news agency IRNA.

The amendement would redefine Rajol Siasi as "a person who has high social status and is a senior military, state or parliamentary leader", IRNA reported.

According to Iran’s constitution, being Rajol Siasi is the first qualification needed by candidates for presidency. Currently the electoral law permits only retired military figures to enter the race.

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'Now that people’s disappointment has reached a new peak, an unknown candidate would have a good chance to win the race'

- Arman newspaper

During the last four decades, the definition of this phrase has sparked disagreements among politicians - however the country’s powerful Guardian Council has the last say on this article of the constitution. 

As for those with military associations, Iran’s electoral law permits individuals currently holding military positions to enter into politics only if they take off their uniforms.

Analysts say recent attempts by hardline legislators to widen Iran’s election law to allow both retired and active commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to run in the 2021 elections could mean a potential undisclosed agreement among the conservatives to support such a candidate. 

Since details of parliament’s new proposal were revealed, pro-reformist politicians and media have warned about the militarisation of politics in Iran.

Former IRGC commander Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf was elected as parliament speaker following the victory of conservatives in February’s parliamentary elections. 

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Now analysts suggest that forces from all right-wing factions have come together once again to pave the way for a military commander to enter the presidential office.

Iranian conservatives believe that the only way to resist Trump's maximum pressure campaign and his administration’s endless sanctions against Iran’s economy is to let IRGC commanders lead the country, analysts say.

Under the headline “Does the law favour military candidates?”, Arman daily suggested that parliament aimed to open doors for candidates with military backgrounds.

The newspaper named four well-known former IRGC commanders who it said could become the candidate chosen by the conservatives to enter the presidential race: Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council; Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council; Hossein Dehghan, military advisor to Iran’s supreme leader; and former oil minister Rostam Qasemi.

As the fifth possible candidate, Arman named 52-year-old Saeed Mohammad Eslami, the current commander of the IRGC Katam al-Anbya Construction Base, who is a relatively unknown figure in Iran’s political arena.

“Now that people’s disappointment [with the political establishment] has reached a new peak, an unknown candidate would have a good chance to win the race,” the daily concluded.

Analytical website Rouydad 24 has also listed Eslami as a potential candidate and wrote that if Trump won the November presidential elections, Iran would have no chance other than electing a president with a military background.

According to Rouydad 24, Mohammad Eslami’s recent provincial visits, his increased presence on Farsi social media platforms, along with comments that he has made on political and economic topics, suggest that some conservative factions have promised him support for the presidential elections.

Meanwhile, Tabnak news agency, which is close to conservatives from the inner circle of power, suggested that the US sanctions against the IRGC and its commanders have helped boost the popularity of Iran’s elite force among the people.  

“The country’s [economic] conditions and regional situation have made it necessary for Iran to have a military president,” Tabnak concluded. 

Education minister under fire over schools reopening

Iranian lawmakers are calling for the impeachment of Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei, after schools reopened to 15 million students on Saturday following a seven-month closure, despite concerns over increased spread of the coronavirus in the country.

MPs have begun collecting signatures to remove Haji Mirzaei, who last week announced that all schools would reopen on 5 September, ignoring warnings from medical professionals and former officials at his ministry, local media reported. 

The announcement was met with outcry from a former education minister. Morteza Haji, who served under reformist president Mohammad Khatami, wrote a letter to Haji Mirzaei stressing that he did not want his own grandchildren to return to school under the current circumstance, ILNA news agency reported.

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“The reopening of schools in person is not justified in my opinion and will cause anxiety among parents… If education is to continue, it must be virtual, unless the Ministry of Health announces that the coronavirus has been eradicated,” ILNA quoted Haji as saying.

Both Haji Mirzaei and President Hassan Rouhani have come under fire from conservative lawmakers over the decision to reopen schools.

Vali Esmaeili, an Iranian legislator, criticised the government’s haste in reopening schools without providing adequate infrastructure, especially in deprived areas, saying the move would “welcome" the coronavirus.

“Iran is not just Velenjak (an affluent neighbourhood in northern Tehran), where your children are pampered with the best facilities. In underprivileged regions, students don’t even have water to wash their hands,” Esmaeili wrote on Twitter.

On Monday, following widespread criticism from various political factions as well as ordinary citizens, Haji Mirzaei backed down from his previous stance and said that parents could choose between sending their children back to school or follow virtual learning.

However, the U-turn failed to reduce parliamentary pressure on Haji Mirzaei, as another lawmaker Ardeshir Motahari accused the minister of reopening schools for the benefit of private schools’ owners.

In an interview with Iran’s national broadcaster, Motahari said that virtual learning had led to a reduction of student registrations at private schools, and the reopening of schools was a move to assure the owners of private schools would get more profit.

Iran is one of the hardest hit countries by the Covid-19 pandemic in the Middle East. 

Tehran's crackdown on journalists condemned

Several media watchdog organisations have condemned Iran’s latest crackdown on journalists and social media activists in the country and called for the United Nations’ intervention.

In response to a new round of crackdown on Iranian journalists, Reporters without Borders (RSF) demanded the UN Human Rights Council “take concrete measures to defend journalists and citizen-journalists” in Iran. 

Since mid-August, three journalists - Kosar Karimi, Amir Reza Teymori and Hassan Abbasi - have been summoned by Iran’s judicial system for their reporting on the country’s worsening economic crisis.

Another journalist, Babak Tahmasebi, was handed a two-year prison sentence and 75 lashes for his articles about the living conditions of labourers working on oil fields in southern Iran.

Meanwhile Mohammad Mosaed, a well-known economic journalist and winner of the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) 2020 International Press Freedom Award, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for his activities on Twitter.

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The court order for Mosaed was widely denounced by international media monitors.

In response to Mosaed’s sentence, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator Sherif Mansour said in a statement: “Accusing Mosaed of creating a crisis through his reporting is just the latest in the Iranian government’s hypocritical approach to journalism.”

The International Federation of Journalist (IFJ) general secretary, Anthony Bellanger, has also slammed Iran’s judiciary for Mosaed’s jail sentence. 

“Mohammad Mosaed did not commit any crime but only did his job as a journalist. We call on the Iranian authorities to stop their outrageous strategy to silence journalists,” Bellanger said.

In a damning report last week, Amnesty International accused Iran of gross human rights violation against those detained in connection with the nationwide protests of November 2019, including journalists and activists who had been subjected to “unfair criminal proceedings”.

Iran has been under increased economic pressure as a result of the United States' "maximum pressure" campaign against the country, which has seen the Trump administration levy economic sanctions against key Iranian industries and government officials.

Protests erupted across the country in November 2019 after Tehran slashed national oil subsidies, which caused petrol prices to rise by more than 50 percent.

*Iranian press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye

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