At the funeral ceremony of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s mother in the city of Qom on Feb. 22, supporters of the former Iranian president chanted, “On the life of any real man, Ahmadinejad will return.” The return of Ahmadinejad, whether in the 2016 parliamentary elections or back in the president’s seat in 2017, is always a hot topic in Iranian media and leads to wild speculation and analysis.
Sadegh Zibakalam, an outspoken Tehran University professor who is a supporter of President Hassan Rouhani’s negotiations with the West and a target of Iran’s hard-liners, wrote an interesting column in Shargh daily about the likelihood of Ahmadinejad’s return to politics. Rather than focusing on whether or not Ahmadinejad has the political clout or the blessing of the supreme leader to return to politics, he focused on some of the institutional problems within the Iranian executive branch.
Zibakalam wrote that anyone who chants “on the life of any real man, Ahmadinejad will return” has “an incorrect understanding of the world of politics in Iran” because there is no need for such chants. He explained, “Our executive system has two characteristics that make the return of Ahmadinejad likely; first, accountability is not taken very seriously in our executive system.”
Because of the lack of accountability in the executive office, according to Zibakalam, the view of Ahmadinejad’s supporters is that whatever the former president did during his eight years in office was “right and necessary,” and whatever was not done was “also right and necessary.” Given this criteria, no one should expect that Ahmadinejad and his followers would not want his return.
The second characteristic of Iran’s executive system that makes Ahmadinejad’s return likely, according to Zibakalam, is “the element of looking to the future, or to be more correct, the lack of it.” He wrote that the managers within the executive system “primarily live in the moment and from day to day. What results or consequences their policies today will have in 10 years or even five years is not much of an issue.”
As an example of this lack of planning and foresight, Zibakalam referenced Ahmadinejad’s subsidy policy in which he decided to give Iran’s population of roughly 79 million a specific monthly payment without considering “where this money will be attained, and more important, in the long term what damages this will cause for the development of the country … was not important.”
Iran’s economy relies in large part on the government and the policies adopted and administered by the executive branch. Whether during the presidency of Reformist Mohammad Khatami or the hard-liner Ahmadinejad, many groups and institutions see their fortunes rise and fall with the change of the administration. While Rouhani has attempted to eliminate some of the subsidy policies and seek private investment, it is too early to tell if he will avoid the same temptations of his predecessors.
As for Ahmadinejad, he has been unusually taciturn since leaving office in August 2013 and has only made a handful of appearances. Before his mother’s funeral, Ahmadinejad’s last public appearance was Feb. 8 at the Almahdi Mosque in Iran’s old city of Shahre-Rey for the 36th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
In his short speech, Ahmadinejad said, “For now I do not have an intention to speak or give speeches but I see the invitation of the Friday prayer leader of Almahdi Mosque as an obligation to accept.” According to reporters, when Ahmadinejad was asked about his return to politics, he only smiled.
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