Khamenei, Jannati, and other fundamentalist clergymen openly worry that the elections will be hijacked by a "triangle of seditionists, deviationists, and counter-revolutionaries." The ayatollahs also speak of "neutralizing" this opposition. The alleged villains include members of the Green Movement, which seeks to reform the political system through the ballot box; Ahmadinejad's supporters, who wish to transform it from within; and young people, who want to see the whole thing abolished. Even long service to the Islamic Republic no longer safeguards those clergymen and politicians who seek to alter the absolutist system of clerical rule.
Indeed, this time around the regime's hardliners are systematically using a variety of methods to silence opponents.
Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani participated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and served two terms as Iran's president. Nonetheless, in March 2011, fundamentalists forced Rafsanjani to cede his position as chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member Muslim scholarly body that appoints the supreme leader, when he unsuccessfully canvassed its members to remove Khamenei after the uprising of 2009. (He retains his position as chairman of the Expediency Council.) His daughter Faezeh, a feminist activist and fierce critic of the incumbent regime, was sentenced to six months in jail for "spreading propaganda against the ruling system" during those protests.
In January, President Ahmadinejad's media advisor, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and banned from all civic activities for five years for publicly suggesting that Islam should not be the sole determinant of what are and are not appropriate political and social activities. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been under house arrest since early 2011, and so will be unavailable to participate in upcoming elections. Fundamentalist ayatollahs have been calling for the arrest and execution of another popular office-holder, presidential chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, on charges of heresy. When an aspiring political opponent, former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Commander Admiral Hossein Alaei, suggested that the supreme leader was exploiting Iran's government and trampling Iranians' rights, his home was besieged by Khamenei's followers, and fellow officers were lined up to cast suspicion on his national loyalty.
Opposition websites, including those of the Green Movement, are routinely censored and blocked. But so, too, are those belonging to government agencies and officials regarded as favoring even the most limited electoral, administrative, or civic reforms -- including a site run by Rafsanjani. With the Greens out of serious contention and factions loyal to Iran's president emerging as the main opposition to the ayatollahs, even pro-Ahmadinejad and pro-Mashaei sites are being censored on the basis that they propagate messages of change. Journalists and bloggers are detained, their equipment confiscated, and their families and associates intimidated verbally and physically with increasing frequency. Human Rights Watch notes that Iran imprisoned more journalists and bloggers in 2011 than any other nation.
Through these actions, the clergy have ensured that the opposition remains incapable of mounting much of a challenge.
Additionally, in the wake of mounting tensions between the theocratic and executive branches over whether unelected clergymen should have so much sway over national and international affairs (including the supervision of elections), Khamenei publicly suggested in late 2011: "There may no longer be the need for the country to have a president; rather, an official appointed by parliament can be in charge." Quickly, hard-line members of the majles, including Speaker Ali Larijani, seized this opportunity to abolish the post of the elected (but potentially independent-minded) chief executive. Larijani, who hails from a family of ayatollahs, and whose own position will be enhanced by terminating the presidency and elevating his role to that of a prime minister, has been especially vocal on the need for such change.
For all these reasons, the Green opposition is reaching the conclusion that the surge of popular discontent expressed in 2009 will not be able to find expression through ballot boxes. So the foes of the regime have begun considering a boycott of the elections.