Political Factions and Candidates for Presidential Elections in Iran

Iran is headed towards twin elections to be held on 19 May. The twelfth presidential elections will take place at the same time with city/village council elections. The Council of Guardians, the body in charge of supervising elections in Iran, identified six persons among hundreds of hopefuls registered to run in the presidential elections, and the campaigning process has officially begun.



Political Factions and Candidates

One of the candidates is current president Hassan Rouhani. He has held high level positions since the revolution, and has good ties with the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. For long years Rouhani served as his representative in the Supreme National Security Council. Rouhani was also known to have close relations with a leading ‘pragmatist’ figure Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died in last January. Rouhani, who was elected as president in June 2013, currently represents the technocrat-reformist alliance. The reformist faction that has been under heavy pressure for a long time views Rouhani as relatively closer to their position and supports him. Reformist Policymaking Council, a temporary umbrella organization that coordinates reformist movements,has aimed to reduce the risk of losing elections because of multiple candidates running from the same faction and has endorsed Rouhani for the presidential election.

Among the candidates confirmed by the Council of Guardians, current Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri and former minister Mostafa Hashemi-Taba are regarded as pro-reform figures, as well. The nomination of Jahangiri is not a bid for running against President Rouhani, but as part of a strategy to field an alternative figure to represent technocrat-reformist front if Rouhani would be vetoed. Jahangiri is expected to contribute the campaign of the President by propagating achievements of the current government, and eventually to withdraw from the race in favor of Rouhani. Hashemi-Taba, one of the founders of technocratic the Executives of Construction (Kargozaran) party, is not considered an influential contender to challenge Rouhani

While the technocrat-reformist faction unified behind President Rouhani, conservative/principalist parties sought for a joint candidate to compete against the incumbent President. A number of conservative associations and parties that come together under the Popular Front for Islamic Revolutionary Forces (JAMNA) tried to choose joint nominees. For the first time the JAMNA hold two conventions to vote for presidential prospects in order to identify the joint nominee. Eventually the JAMNA nominated five people, and asked them to withdraw before the election-day in favor of the most popular one. Thus, many of high-profile conservative figures gave up the idea of running for the presidential elections. One of the joint nominees of the JAMNA, Mehrdad Bazrpash did not officially register for running in the elections. The Council of Guardiansdid not confirm qualifications of Alireza Zakani and Hamidreza Hajibabaie, both nominated by the JAMNA. Hence, only two of the joint nominees of JAMNA, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi, have found opportunity to run. Qalibaf, who has been the mayor of Tehran for almost ten years, had previously run for the presidential elections in 2005 and 2013, and he had garnered almost 15 percent of the casted votes in both elections. Qalibaf is not the most popular candidate of the conservatives because he was ranked the fourth in the preliminary voting of JAMNA. The first nomination of JAMNA is S. Ebrahim Raisi, who was the most popular figure in the JAMNA voting. However, he did not show up in JAMNA conventions, and described himself as an independent candidate.

Although the JAMNA unified numerous conservative groups, Motalefeh (the Islamic Coalition Party), one of the oldest conservative movements that believed to be influential in the bazaar of Tehran did not join the camp. Instead, it nominated Mostafa Mir-Salim, former Minister of Culture, who passed the filter of the Council of Guardians. It is difficult to estimate his prospective performance because neither Mir-Salim, nor his political party run on their own in previous elections.

The surprise in the process of identification of nominees came from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He both supported the bid of Hamid Baqaie, who served as vice-president while Ahmadinejad was in office, and also nominated himself. In fact, his prospective come-back and candidacy was on the agenda for a long time. However, Supreme Leader Khamenei made it public in the last September that he did not welcome Ahmadinejad’s running in the elections. Then, the latter had ostensibly succumbed to the ‘advice’ of Supreme Leader. The Council of Guardians banned both Ahmadinejad and Baqaie from running in the presidential elections.


Contest between Rouhani – Raisi

After the Council of Guardians’ final decision on naming the presidential candidates,the election is expected be a contest between Rouhani and Raisi. Both areamong the ulema and are educated in law.  Rouhani has mostly engagedin political positions and has taken charge of security-related missions. Raisi hastaken missions in judicial affairs. He is still the prosecutor of the Special Court of Clerics. He has become the chairman of Astan-e Qodse Razavi, one of the richest religious foundations in Iran. This foundation has businesses on a wide scale in various parts of the country. The chief managers of religious foundations are being appointed directly by the Supreme Leader, and answer only to him.  It is inconceivable that such a high-level official joins the election contest without permission from Khamenei. That is why Raisi is considered to be favorite candidate of Khamenei. Moreover, some people claim that Raisi has been grooming for the post of Supreme Leader after Khamenei. However, a possible defeat, or a victory with small margins may shadow his claim for the post of Supreme Leader.

Raisi has two vulnerabilities. The first is his alleged role in the summary executions of imprisoned regime opponents in 1988. On the other hand, this indicates how hardliner he is, and how he is committed to the regime. The second vulnerability of Raisi is his being lack of a political career. That is, he is not known by wider segments of the society, which may also be translated into leverage. As a matter of fact, he could not be blamed for systemic corruption and deficiencies. Additionally, he has managed to fulfill the self-appointed but the failed mission JAMNA by making himself as the single joint candidate of conservative faction with the help of massive disqualifications made by the Council of Guardians. The self-presentation of Raisi as an independent and non-partisan contester further facilitates his work. He has already secured support of traditional conservatives embodied by JAMNA. He also aims to get support of neo-radicals by employing some figures from the cabinet of former President Ahmadinejad. Currently, former secretary general of the Supreme National Security Council Saeid Jalili and a hardliner ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi have endorsed Raisi. Then, the continuation of claims of Mir-Salim and Qalibaf until the end of contest will be decisive. Especially the attitude of Qalibaf, who had garnered almost six million votes in the last presidential election, will be critical in shaping the election results.

Rouhani is considered as the joint candidate of technocrat, reformistand pragmatist factions. He is also known to have close relations with Khamanei. Although the latter occasionally criticize some policies and practices of the government, it does not mean a turn against Rouhani. Eventually, four-year performance of the Rouhani government will be put on vote on 19 May. In this respect, the nuclear deal and economic issues will come into prominence. Although the nuclear deal has been presented as a victory by the government, it is subjected to serious criticisms. Particularly some problems faced in the removal of sanctions and the harsh discourse of the Trump administration towards IranleadsIranian people to question both relations with the West and the nuclear deal.The nuclear deal has allowed the removal of constraints on Iranian oil exports, the return of some Iranian assets frozen in the United States, purchasing new airplanes for civil aviation etc. Although Iranian economy has recorded considerable growth rates in the last two years, socio-economic conditions of low-income and rural people has not improved. Considering this point into account, Raisi is expected to put forward a populist agenda. In this respect, one of the liabilities of the Rouhani government is corruption. Especially, the case of astronomic salaries of some high-level officials in public enterprises is likely to pose a serious challenge to the campaign of Rouhani. 

The technocrat-reformist alliance working in coordination with president Rouhani managed to record a considerable success in the parliamentary elections that were held in February 2016. Because the same alliance is maintained for the presidential elections, it is likely that it might reiterate a similar performance.