Guarded elections


Iran's Guardian Council screens prospective presidential candidates. The council has barred two major potential competitors — one of them a father of Iran’s 1979 revolution — from elections scheduled for next month.

Iran’s elections are not democratic. Yet some analysts say they offer vigorous competition among varying perspectives on Iran’s future, from credible political personalities. Others dismiss the elections as a meaningless exercise controlled by old, conservative, religious figures, and national-security elements.

Last week, the Guardian Council — which is dominated by clerics under the control of 73-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard — ruled out all but eight of some 700 candidates for the presidency. It narrowed the field to an undistinguished group with no popular base.

Among the candidates who didn’t make the cut was Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran. He was an associate of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 revolution against the rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Another excluded candidate was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who was considered the choice of current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to succeed him. Given Mr. Ahmadinejad’s performance in office, Mr. Mashaei’s qualifications are open to question. But before the Guardian Council decision, he was a prominent candidate.

American relations with Iran, and Iran’s relations with its neighbors in the region, would have had better prospects if a political situation as close to democracy as possible had prevailed in its elections. Whether Mr. Rafsanjani would have won, he at least has stayed in touch with the United States over the years.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s decision to remove him, Mr. Mashaei, and other candidates from the running before the elections renders the June 14 exercise close to meaningless. That may suit the strategy of an old cleric who is trying to cling to power in a modern world.

But the strategy is to the long-term benefit of neither Iran nor countries that seek useful relations with it, unless it leads ultimately to a new Iranian revolution.