The anti-Rafsanjani demonstrations are very important, because Rafsanjani will soon formally declare his candidacy for the presidency. Elections are scheduled for June, and the regime is desperate to "prove" its standing with the people. To that end, they will use force and trickery to produce a huge voter turnout. They will compel all government employees and all military personnel to go to the polls, and they will spread rumors (if you don't vote, you'll never get an exit visa; if you don't vote, your family members will be punished, etc.) to bring the unwilling to vote. The mullahs know that many millions of Iranians plan to boycott the elections, in a kind of silent demonstration of contempt.Hm, interesting. I'd always thought of Rafsanjani as at least something of a sincere reformist—certainly he's not averse to negotiating with the West or foreign investment and the like, though he can run a corrupt kleptocracy with the best of them—who was just never willing to run too far ahead of the powers that be. And he may be a hater, but he's not a true lunatic or a hardline ideologue like many of the younger conservatives in his Islamic Builders party. Certainly it's better for him to win then someone like Ali Larijani, no? At any rate, it's probably time to start reading up on the Iranian election… Speaking of which, I sure wish I could read Mustafa Moin's Howard Dean-esque campaign blog, but alas.
The trickery has to do with Rafsanjani's grand return to national politics (he is an ex-president). He intends to campaign as the anti-establishment candidate par excellence, and has reportedly connived with Khamenei to prepare a super-reformist image. Rafsanjani intends to run against the Supreme Leader, criticizing the regime's performance on everything from foreign policy (hoping to seduce the West into thinking that he — who has been a key figure in the mullahcracy for decades — will produce the long awaited "opening" to the United States) to the management of the economy.
It is unlikely that many Iranians will fall for this; they remember Rafsanjani as one of the most brutal leaders of the vicious crackdown on the student demonstration of the late eighties (a story recounted in shocking detail in the memoirs of the Grand Ayatollah Montazeri), and they are aware of the billions that he and his family have reportedly stashed away in foreign banks and real estate.