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Iran's future course: What does the list of permitted Presidential race candidates indicate?

IANS | June 13, 2024 04:32 PM

NEW DELHI: Beset by Western sanctions, regional tensions, and internal social and political strains - especially plummeting voter turnout- Iran will on June 28 elect a new President in snap polls necessitated by the demise of incumbent Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month.

However, the country's likely course ahead has been made clear by the list of the permitted candidates.

The configuration of the six candidates on the ballot after the vetting and clearing of nominations of various candidates by the Guardian Council, comprising a dozen jurists, half appointed by the Supreme Leader and half by the Majles (Parliament), is stark in its choices. Most are conservatives of various persuasions, largely hardline.

The late President Raisi, who succeeded moderate Hasan Rouhani in 2021, was a hardliner. His accession in 2021 represented the alternating change between moderate reformist and conservative hardline holders of the nation's second-most powerful post over the past nearly three decades - Mohammad Khatami (reformist, 1997-2005), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (populist conservative, 2005-13), and then, Rouhani (reformist, 2013-21), and Raisi (2021-24).

However, several reformist candidates were not cleared to run in the 2021 polls, leading to the lowest turnout ever noted in Iranian Presidential polls - barely 48.5 per cent.

This time, the situation is not much different from the previous polls.

Saeed Jalili, a former hardline chief nuclear negotiator (2007-13) and a candidate for the 2013 poll - when he lost to Rouhani - and in 2021 when he withdrew in favour of Raisi, has made the cut, but his more moderate predecessor Ali Larijani was again not permitted to run, like in 2021.

Larijani's successor as Majles Speaker, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former Mayor of Tehran and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Air Force chief, is also on the list, as is his successor as Tehran Mayor and former Majles member Alireza Zakani, who was not cleared to run in 2013 and 2017 but got the nod for 2021, before withdrawing in favour of Raisi.

Vice President and Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs head Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, an ENT surgeon by profession, and former Interior (2005-08) and Justice Minister (2013-2017) Mostafa Pourmohammadi are also approved candidates. They are also conservative by bent.

Majles member and cardiac surgeon Masoud Pezeshkian, who served as a minister in the Khatami regime, is the only candidate who is viewed as a reformist. However, he is an ethnic Azeri which could affect his chances of gaining widespread support across the country. His presence seems geared to draw out reformist voters to boost the turnout.

"Perennial Presidential candidate" and longtime IRGC Commander Mohsen Rezaei, who was cleared for the 2005 presidential poll - though withdrawing subsequently - but went on to contest the 2009, 2013, and 2021 polls - with his best performance in the last where he came second, is not standing this time.

Nor is Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, who is currently the acting President, with reports claiming he and Rezaei met Qalibaf and decided to support him.

Apart from Larijani, other prominent candidates who were barred from standing were former President Ahmadinejad - known to have some disagreements with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei towards the end of his term and subsequently - and reformist candidate Eshaq Jahangiri, who had served as Vice President under Rouhani and as a minister under Khatami.

However, it must be noted that even Jahangiri, seen as the reformists' best choice, was clear not to come out against the establishment.

With the field set, the main contest seems to be between Jalili, who is close to Supreme Leader Khamenei and the IRGC, who could weigh in his favour with the entrenched establishment, and Qalibaf, who is also deemed close to the Supreme Leader and bears an IRGC pedigree himself.

A Jalili victory, possible as the reformist electorate could again sit out the polls to counter the established regime's bid to establish the legitimacy of the poll process, leading to his own supporters exerting a decisive impact, would mean a continuation of the policies of President Raisi, with whom he was quite close and is understood to have exerted a key influence on his several decisions.

If Qalibaf, considered a moderate conservative, goes on to win, the situation ahead would only differ in degrees, with no major changes in either domestic or foreign policies indicated.

However, even if either of them wins, or for that matter, most of the others, one key challenge will still remain. President Raisi was expected to run again in the 2025 election, and, as a high-ranking cleric, was tipped as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Jalili, a soldier-turned-academician-turned-politician, and Qalibaf, a pilot-turned-politician, do not have the religious credentials for the country's top post. Nor do the other candidates, save Pourmohammadi possibly.

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