Suffering Back-to-back Defeats, Iran’s Principlists Are Floating the Idea of a Shadow Cabinet
People are not quite familiar with the term "shadow cabinet". They go to ballot boxes, cast their votes, and wait for the elected administration to form a cabinet. However, the presidential race has a very different meaning for politicians. They spare no effort to push their candidate into office and may very well resort to anything, from various campaigning methods to slander and vitriol.
However, in recent years the notion of a "shadow cabinet" has made its way into Iran's political rhetoric. Even though the notion is still alien to the public sphere, those defeated in election usually bring it up after their defeat. The notion is in common use in the UK, where the party out of power forms one, with positions in one-on-one correspondence with those of the sitting government. In democratic European countries, a shadow cabinet is established after the election for a better administration of the country, with the aim being not to besmirch the government but to show preparation for the next election.
Two weeks after the presidential race, reactions to the proposition regarding a Principlist shadow cabinet keep resurfacing. The crusaders behind the issue insist and refuse to leave the battleground.
Being in shadow, from 2005 to 2017
The election result in just for a few days, some of Ebrahim Raisi's advocates spoke of a shadow cabinet in a conference dubbed ''Supporters of the Fittest Candidate". They had lost the race and were now considering the formation of a shadow cabinet, citing Raisi's 16m votes. The developments became more serious when Saeed Jalili urged the formation of the shadow cabinet, and former IRIB chief issued a similar message to his Telegram channel.
Apart from Raisi's supporters, his withdrawn rival Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf also claimed in a statement issued a few days after the election that he will continue to pursue public demands along Rouhani's campaign promises. By stressing his campaign mottos, Qalibaf seemed to bully not only the twelfth administration but also threatening to form a shadow shadow cabinet.
This is not the first time politicians in Iran find the idea of shadow cabinet interesting. It was after the 2005 presidential election that a group of pro-reform figures promoted the notion, met with such a harsh response from the Principlists they had to back off. Those days, the Principlists accused the Reformists of treason, trying to overthrow the establishment.
This was not the last time. Before the controversial 2009 presidential election, candidate Mohsen Rezaei announced in his campaign plans that he would form a shadow cabinet along the official one, saying it would include a think tank attended by forerunners. In a televised debate with Rezaei, Mirhossein Mousavi praised the think tank idea but not the shadow cabinet. However, Rezaei's proposition was given cold shoulder by the Principlists and he refused to pursue the issue.
This was not the end of the story, either. After the 2013 presidential race in which Rouhani took office, rumors started circulating that Ahmadinejad and his close advocates were to establish a shadow cabinet. The ex-president was apparently holding weekly meetings with his ex-cabinet members in Tehran's Mahmoudieh district. According to reports published two years later, the meetings led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were efforts to meticulously monitor the Rouhani administration, and evaluate methods for a comeback by identifying and exaggerating the administration's weaknesses. It was even heard that Ahmadinejad had appointed 29 officials, each in charge of monitoring and analyzing measures undertaken by their opposite number in the Rouhani administration. Shortly afterwards, a senior advisor of Ahmadinejad, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, denied the reports.
Reactions began a day after Saeed Jalili's summon went public along other developments coming from his fellow-minded Principlists. President Rouhani's advisor, Hesamoddin Ashena lambasted Jalili in a series of tweet. "I suggest the formation of a decorous party instead of seasonal headquarters, fronts, and PFRF and pursuit of the worthwhile shadow cabinet tradition not by non-governmental, non-public, and non-private budget but with aid from your own sympathizers and supporters," Ashena wrote sarcastically.
Iran's Vice President for Executive Affairs Mohammad Shariatmadari also squibbed the masterminds of shadow cabinet in an interview with Khabar Online, advising all political groups to learn how to sit in shadows, instead of forming a shadow cabinet. Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran's ambassador to the UK, also noted in a Telegram post that shadow cabinets work only in parliamentary systems where ministers are lawmakers.
Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar also reacted to the debate, telling Khabar Online that a shadow cabinet's main goal should be to help the sitting administration, advising its proponents not to form a shadow cabinet if they intend to organize slander and sabotage. A harsher response came from a member of the Combatant Clergy Association Hossein Ebrahimi who said the administration is the one elected by popular vote. "We did not, do not and will not have a shadow cabinet," he said.
Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian, a seminary school and university professor, has also questioned the formation of a shadow cabinet that could potentially mean 'rebellion against the president, theocracy, and Vilayat-e Faqih', i.e. Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist.
Principlist activist Hossein Sobhaninia has also opposed the proposition, saying the Principlist forces need to revamp themselves and the idea will not sink in in the absence of coherent parties.
What do the proponents say?
The notion of a shadow cabinet has its own advocates, not only among the Principlists but also among pro-reform figures, even though there are always ifs and buts. Tehran's outspoken MP Mahmoud Sadeghi has told Khabar Online he considers the formation of a shadow cabinet a civil move, which could strengthen the country if implemented conventionally, calling on the Rouhani administration to welcome the initiative. However, he noted that it would be unfitting if the goal behind is to sabotage.
The secretary general of the pro-reform Will of the Iranian Nation Party (HAMA), Ahmad Hakimipour has also expressed hope that the Principlists pursue the implementation of the initiative, as he believes it would help the dynamism and prosperity of the country and the establishment.
Reputed pro-reform activist and university professor Sadegh Zibakalam has also told Khabar Online he does not consider a shadow cabinet as rebellion against the president, even though the idea is inconsistent with Iran's political system and might take years to become institutionalized.
Two weeks after the shadow cabinet was first brought to public, Saeed Jalili once again hailed the initiative in a conference attended by his fellow Principlists, saying they should not become inactive in the aftermath of the election, as he stressed that the country needs a shadow cabinet more than any other time. "Shadow cabinet is one that acts as nation's voice to pursue demands to the sitting administration, aimed to reach a favorable status, not one that stands in front of the people," he said in response to criticisms. These remarks indicate that Jalili is the main flag-bearer of the shadow cabinet, who does not want to abandon campaigning even after the election. Nonetheless, we should wait to see if he stops his new pursuit or insists on using the notion to treat his wounds of successive defeats.