Iranian Media and Elections 2013: Is the Supreme Leader Extending an Olive Branch to the Reformists?

Co-authored by Iran Media Program and ASL 19, this was originally posted on the Iran Media Program website.

After a politically volatile four years marred by economic instability, international sanctions, and religious rebellion following the disputed presidential election of 2009, a sense of cooperation is emerging between the Supreme Leader’s office and the main reformist faction in Iran.

Two weeks ago, many Farsi newspapers reported that Iran’s three prominent reformist leaders – former Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Majid Ansari, former Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, and former Minister of Industries and Mines Eshagh Jahangiri- were granted an opportunity to meet with the Supreme Leader. This meeting was kept in strict confidentiality- the media was unaware of the date, time or location of this very significant meeting in advance of the elections and announcements of candidates.

The Office of the Supreme Leader is the only official source of news about Khamenei, since no media outlets are allowed to distribute any news related to him without approval from his office, which has yet to confirm or deny that this meeting took place. Regardless of this, the Iranian media has been reporting on this story. One of the participating reformist leaders, Majid Ansari, told Etemaad that the three leaders had a good meeting with the Supreme Leader and that the parties have mutually decided not to reveal any details yet.

The last time a reformist faction had a meeting with the Supreme Leader was in June 2009, when Khamenei was reported to have shown almost no flexibility with regard to the post-election events. Some Iran pundits believe this meeting is a sign of change, although Ansari explicitly stated that the meeting was a conversation about the current situation of the country, rather than a discussion about the presidential elections. However, the elections are looming, as debates within Iran and abroad examine the possibility of a reformist candidate running. Prominent journalist Hosein Bastani believes that the meeting could have been an indirect way for reformists to find out Khamenei’s opinion certain reform candidates and their participation in the election, while others speculate as to whether reformists will be allowed to participate in the election at all. Either way, the notion that this meeting was unrelated to the upcoming elections remains an unconvincing argument to those following Iranian news.

Since the presidential elections of 1988, reformists have been active political participants in elections. In 2005, Khamenei directly intervened to allow two previously-banned reformist candidates to run in an effort to neutralize calls for a boycott of the elections. The main issue, therefore, might be the reformists’ position towards the upcoming election, especially considering the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections, when they objected to the results and believed that the outcome was rigged, and many have called for a boycott this year. The recent meeting with the Supreme Leader might be a strategic step to avoid more calls for a boycott.