Iran is a country where lipstick on a woman — don’t even think about lipstick on an LGBT person — can get you harassed or much worse by the religious police, who would bother to put lipstick on a pig?
The metaphoric pig here the government of Iran, ruled with increasingly brutal authority by Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the not-lipstick, anti-cosmetic is his just-elected national face-man President Ebrahim Raisi.
Making Raisi president of Iran puts the ugliest face possible on governance. Almost everyone in Iran knows who Raisi is — a hanging judge now repurposed in clerical and political garb. The man the 82 year old Supreme Leader Khamenei seems to be anointing as his likely successor is famous for his role in killing thousands of Iranian citizens and leaving even larger numbers rotting in prisons.
Raisi’s career began in his 20’s, as a local prosecutor, and led to his service on the so-called death commission in 1988. More recently, after popular protests against the Khamenei-led theocracy in 2009 and 2014, Raisi’s voice was one of the loudest calling for crackdowns, arrests, disappearances, deaths.
No wonder that in 2017, the first time Khamenei pushed Raisi for president voters overwhelmingly rejected him in favor of the moderately reforming incumbent President Hassan Rouhani. Raisi got support from only about 30 percent of Iran’s eligible voters.
Just weeks ago, Raisi won what the Washington Post — for reasons perhaps it can explain — called “a resounding victory.” While it’s true that this time 62 percent of marked ballots had Raisi’s name on them, but that represented barely any growth in his popularity.
What changed from four years ago was, this time, instead of voting for his opponent, more than half the eligible voters stayed home. And of those who did cast ballots, about one in eight left them blank.
What this demonstrates, says longtime Iran expert Gary Sick, is that “Iran appears to have solved, at least for now, the dilemma of maintaining majority revolutionary control based on support from less than a third of the population.”
The numbers suggest the key words in Sick’s sentence are “for now,” because sustaining political control with such a limited popular base is hard to do, especially doing it in Khamenei and Raisi’s signature hard way.
Trita Parsi is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, as well as the founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council. He is the author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy and Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.