The American media is swooning over the idea that Iran's newly elected president Hassan Rouhani is a reformer. Anybody who has the faintest idea as to how Iran's elections are run, is not so quick to whip out the "reformer" title to anyone who's been elected.
It must be understood that Iran's current political system was set up following the Iranian Revolution, and is designed to prevent change and reform. Nobody runs for president in Iran without the permission of the Guardian Council (a council made up of six members appointed by the Supreme Leader and six members elected by their parliament from a list provided by the head of the judiciary-- a position that is filled by an appointee of the Supreme Leader). Indeed, the Guardian Council has even prevented parliamentary candidates from running for office.
So to recap, you don't run for president in Iran unless you get permission from the twelve person Guardian Council-- six of whom are directly appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other six are elected by Parliament from a list provided by an appointee of the Supreme Leader.
So to think that somehow a reformer slipped through this process is ludicrous. Anyone who's given permission to run for office clearly does so with the knowledge and permission of the Supreme Leader and his appointees.
It should also be made clear that the President of Iran is not in charge of the military. The Supreme Leader is the Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian military.
All of this should give you an inkling into how safely insulated the Supreme Leader of Iran is. He only answers to The Assembly of Experts-- a body of 80+ Islamic theologians-- who elect the Supreme Leader for his life term. The Assembly of Experts does have the legal power to remove the Supreme Leader, but has never attempted to exercise this power. Considering that the Supreme Leader has absolute control over the military, it would be interesting to see what would happen if the Experts actually tried to depose the Supreme Leader.
So what about Hassan Rouhanni's background? The Tower provides a very quick rundown.
From The Tower piece by Avi Issacharoff (h/t David Gerstman at Legal Insurrection):
The incoming president of Iran was never a reformist. It is doubtful that his achievement was even a victory for the moderate camp in Iran, which on the face of it wants to replace the regime and to stop the nuclear weapons race. Rouhani, as opposed to the image that has been fashioned, was until recently known as part of the conservative camp in Iran. He is not one of those challenging the Islamist regime, and certainly not challenging Khamenei’s rule.
Rouhani’s win election should not be seen as a dramatic sign that Iran will change its line regarding either its nuclear policy or its involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts. Despite Rouhani’s declarations in the past that may suggest he seeks flexibility in the nuclear project, the reality in Iran is that these matters will remain in the hands of Khamenei and the men of the Revolutionary Guard.
Politicall Rouhani’s victory reflects power struggles within the Iranian leadership. It marks a kind of political comeback for former president President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was Rouhani’s political godfather. Moreover, Rouhani is the breath of fresh air, a new face at the top of the Iranian leadership compared to the outgoing president, Muhamad Ahmedinejad. He was the only cleric allowed to run in the race, and will now try to bring the public, including the Tehran elites, closer to the regime of the Ayatollahs – of which he is one of the most outstanding products.
So how did a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts and Supreme National Security Council – and a confidant of Khamenei – become the “great hope” of the moderate camp? It may be the embrace he received from the two former presidents, Khatami and Rafsanjani, rivals to Khamenei, that put him into the reformist category.
“He never called himself a reformist,” explains Dr. Soli Shahvar, who heads the Ezri Center for Iran and Gulf Studies at Haifa University. “But he uses rhetoric that is less blustery than that of Ahmedinejad, and speaks more moderately, including on the subject of nuclear negotiations.” Shahvar’s conclusion with respect to Rouhani’s win is unambiguous. “I interpret his election in one way only: The regime wanted him to win. If they had wanted one of the conservatives to win, they would have gotten four of the five conservatives to drop out of the race, paving the way for [eventual runner-up, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher] Ghalibaf to win. But they didn’t do that. Moreover, it was the regime that approved the candidacy of Rouhani alongside only seven others. This is striking evidence that Khamenei wanted Rouhani to win, both internally and externally.”
According to Shahvar, from the internal perspective, a victory for another candidate like Ahmedinejad risked provoking a renewal of the demonstrations like those of 2009. “Victory for a candidate who is perceived as more moderate yet still has the confidence of Khamenei, serves the regime in the best way. Externally, Iran today is in a very difficult situation with regard to sanctions and its international standing. A conservative president would only have increased Tehran’s isolation in the world. A victory for someone from the ‘moderate stream,’ however, will immediately bring certain countries in the international community to call for ‘giving a chance to dialogue with the Iranian moderates.’ They will ask for more time in order to encourage this stream, and it will take pressure off the regime. And so we see that in the non-disqualification of Rouhani and especially in the non-dropping-out of four of the five conservative candidates there is more than just an indication that this is the result the regime desired.”Most likely this false face of friendly reform will fool the U.S. State Department who, in between engaging in and covering up various cases of sexual misconduct within their ranks, have a vested interest in attempting to show that Obama's weak-- I mean, open-minded policies toward Iran are effective.