This week Iran’s Guardian Council released its official list of vetted candidates eligible to run for presidency in the upcoming May elections.
The list includes a total of six candidates (out of 1,361 who registered to vote), including current President Hassan Rouhani, and Conservative candidate Ebrahim Raesi, a close political ally of Khamenei.
Despite the fact that Iran’s constitution vests ultimate power in the Supreme Leader, over recent years the presidential office has become increasingly powerful, and with the Supreme Leader turning 80 soon the May elections could be key in determining Iran’s future political climate.
The six candidates qualified to run are an equal split between the ‘Conservative’ and ‘Moderate’ factions.
Who are the candidates?
The current President, running for what would be his second term in office, is considered a ‘moderate’ within the political landscape in Iran. He was instrumental in the nuclear deal negotiations and promised to alleviate economic hardships and repair broken relations with the West. Rouhani gained much support for reducing Iran’s international isolation through the Nuclear negotiations, however according to polls 72% of people feel that the economic situation of ordinary people has not improved as a result of the nuclear deal. Despite this, Rouhani is still leading, although not by a large margin, in the polls.
Jahangiri is currently serving as Vice President for Rouhani. He previously served as the minister for mines and metals under Khatami and was the governor of Isfahan. Analysts believe that Jahangiri is actually standing as a ‘cover candidate’ in support of Rouhani, and will step down after the debates and stand behind Rouhani. This move will be beneficial for Rouhani and strengthen the position of the Moderates overall.
Mostafa Hashemi-Taba served as Vice President under former Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, he is also president of the Olympic committee and has close ties with Rouhani. He has been largely absent from the political scene for the last decade and is not a front runner amongst the candidates.
Ebrahim Raesi is a close ally of current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and although he is relatively new to politics he has served as a high profile judge since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. He is also the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, the biggest religious endowment in Iran and owns around $20 billion worth of land from this position.
He played a key role in the 1988 execution of political prisoners, which he has received considerable criticism for from his opposition, and may work against him in the elections. Raesi is also rumoured to be a possible candidate for the position of Iran’s next Supreme Leader, and his run for presidency is thought to be the first step in achieving this goal.
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf
Although less internationally known, Ghalibaf also came second to Rouhani in the 2013 elections. As the a former military officer and current Mayor of Tehran, he is the biggest threat to Rouhani according to pre-election polls.
Interestingly, 42% of people identify unemployment as ‘the most important issue facing the country that Iran’s president should try to address’, and identify Ghalibaf to be best placed to solve it.
Mostafa Mir Salim
Former minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance and member of the Expediency Body, Mostafa Mir Salim is expected to drop out after the debates and back either Ghalibaf or Raesi.
Alliances and tactical political moves
Internal alliances and predictions of tactical political moves from the candidates speak in favour of a win for Rouhani.
The pre-election polls found that 62% of Iranians have a favorable opinion of Rouhani whilst 35% have an unfavorable opinion. For Ghalibaf, 67% hold a favorable opinion and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Despite this it is predicted that both Jahangiri and Hashemi-Taba will pull out of the race following the forthcoming election debates and back Rouhani, which will strengthen his position and that of the moderates against the conservatives. Mostafa Salim is also expected to do the same for the Conservatives and back either Raisi or Ghalibaf.
Ghalibaf will not benefit from the same with Raesi, who although isn’t leading in the polls enjoys strong support from powerful figures in Iran who will aid him in securing votes enough votes to stay in the run.
Alternatively, Rouhani faces very little competition from Jahangiri or Hashemi-Taba, and will likely be the only moderate candidate running in the elections with a decent following.
Of course once the campaigns get heated following the televised debates on April 28th outcomes may get unpredictable once again. Rouhani has also faced huge challenges as a result of thearrest of a number of reformist and moderate journalists, greatly jeapordizing his election campaign.
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