June 21, 2021
Vahid Haghanian, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s chief personal aide, in a rare public statement thanked President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s (Raeesi) competitors Saturday for ensuring “a real and competitive” June 18 presidential election. “The presence of these three rivals for His Excellency Raisi was an invisible blessing [from God],” he wrote in a letter to “esteemed comrades.”
The three, from an original field of seven candidates, were former central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei, and Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh, a member of parliament for Mashhad.
“One can say with certainty that these [candidates], knowingly or unknowingly, expended themselves for the Revolution in some manner,” wrote Haghanian, adding that they had resisted great pressure to withdraw. Haghanian argued that without their participation, the Islamic Revolution would have faced “a great challenge” given the “boycott of elections” advocated by “foreigners” and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But in fact, Ahmadinejad and former parliament speaker Ali Larijani were key candidates and strong competition to Raisi who were barred by the hardliner Guardian Council from running, without a public explanation. This decision further fueled the boycott movement as many saw the election as not presenting any real choices.
The government-affiliated Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on Sunday showed some paragraphs of Haghanian’s letter, which has not as yet been published anywhere in full.
The final field of four in the election emerged Wednesday, the last day of campaigning, when three candidates withdrew.
Some pundits argued from the time the Guardian Council, announced the list of seven approved candidates in late May, that the four principlists were in the race solely to support Raisi and attack the Rouhani administration in televised debates. They would then withdraw in Raisi’s favor, critics said. Reformist media, as well as Hemmati and Mehralizadeh, referred to them as “cover candidates” – meaning pace-setters, or stalking horses.
Haghanian’s letter is portrayed by some on social media as evidence of Khamenei’s involvement in engineering the election and proof that Hemmati was allowed to run just to draw reformists and their supporters to the ballots and ensure a higher turnout.
“Mr Vahid [Haghanian] has clearly explained the script [written for the election] circus,” political analyst Reza Haghighatnejad tweeted(link is external). Iran International TV’s analyst Reza (Morad) Vaisi tweeted(link is external) that Haghanian’s remarks were unequivocal proof of the involvement of Khamenei’s inner circle in the election.
Haghanian (58), who rose to become a general after joining the IRGC in 1984, is known as General Vahid or Agha Vahid (Mr Vahid). While often described as Khamenei’s right-hand man, he usually keeps a low profile and was not seen alongside Khamenei until August 2009 during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second-term presidential inauguration when he stood behind the leader and handed him the endorsement letter.
In March 2011, the website of Mehdi Karroubi, a leader of Iran’s Green Movement claimed Khamenei had ordered Karroubi’s ‘abduction’(link is external) along with his wife, with Haghanian commanding the operation. Karroubi, 83, who has subsequently been under house arrest for 10 years.
Haghanian was designated in 2019(link is external) by the United States Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), along with Khamenei’s chief of staff Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani and others, under Executive Order 13876, signed by Donald Trump that year. The same executive order was used to designate both Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Raisi.