Iran: the Stakes in a Contested Presidential Election

This Friday, Iran is called to the polls to choose Hassan Rouhani’s successor from among five candidates.

This is a presidential election – the thirteenth since the 1979 revolution – whose outcome seems quite certain: it should be the conservatives who come to power, led by Ebrahim Raisi, current president of the Constitutional Court and considered by the majority as the natural successor from the Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei.

Two candidates retire in the final stretch

Raisi will also benefit from the votes that would have gone to the hands of Alireza Zakani, who withdrew on Thursday. The 56-year-old conservative is not the only one who has backed down two days from the vote.

On Wednesday, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the only true reformer allowed on the list by the Guardian Council, also withdrew his candidacy. The former governor of the province of Isfahan thus leaves the way open to Abdolnaser Hemmati, currently the only non-conservative candidate for the presidency.

But, as expected, in the absence of candidates capable of overshadowing him – after the exclusion by the Guardian Council of its main political adversaries, such as former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – the chances of someone other than Raisi being elected are really rare. According to the latest polls, the ultra-conservative is considered the winner with 60% of the votes, already in the first round (the eventual second round is scheduled for June 25).

Read also | The economy is the main challenge for the next president of Iran

The rest of the candidates: four conservatives and a reformist

In addition to Ebrahim Raisi, in the presidential race, also for the conservatives, is Mohsen Rezai, former commander-in-chief of the Guardians of the Revolution, who has already failed in two presidential elections (in 2009 and 2013, after retiring in 2005, few days before the vote).

Saeed Jalili, former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, was already a candidate in 2013 and obtained 11.4% of the votes, coming in third place, just ahead of General Rezai (10.6%).

The last ultra-conservative in the race is MP Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, little known to the general public; So is Abdolnasser Hemmati, a former central bank president and the only reformer in the race right now.

See also | Iran fears fourth wave of pandemic ahead of presidential elections

Possible abstention record

It is not only the exclusion of the most important opponents that should give Raisi the victory, but also the high abstention rate. According to the polls, in fact, participation should be less than 40%, with an abstention rate that could, therefore, exceed the record of 57%, registered in the 2020 legislative elections.

Why will more than half of Iranian voters – if the estimates are confirmed – will not go to the polls on Friday? The feeling for many of them is that these elections have a predictable outcome and take place in a context of disappointment and disenchantment, after eight years of the presidency of the centrist and moderate Hassan Rouhani, who has disappointed the expectations of the Iranian people.

The two terms of the current president – who, remember, has less power in the Islamic Republic of Iran than the Supreme Guide in any case – have been marked in particular by the failure of his policy of openness, after the “enemy number 1 “The United States will withdraw on May 8, 2018 from the Iranian nuclear agreement (or JCPOA), signed in Vienna only three years earlier. The then US president, Donald Trump, had then relaunched economic sanctions against the Middle Eastern country.

What’s at stake on Friday

Iran is going through an extremely delicate phase. The context is that of an economic and social crisis aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The discontent is palpable, although we are not at the levels of the winter of 2017-2018 or the fall of 2019, when the Iranian people took to the streets to protest and were the victims of violent repression.

The economy and the nuclear deal with Iran (two closely related issues) are two of the main issues at stake in these elections. Iran’s economy grew again in 2016, following the signing of the JCPOA in Vienna the previous year. But the withdrawal of the United States from the pact two years later and the reinstatement of US sanctions plunged Iran into a violent recession.

Although Iran’s GDP began to stabilize in 2020 after two dark years, according to the International Monetary Fund, Iranians’ purchasing power has taken a big hit due to inflation.

So how to turn the economic situation around? All the candidates agree that the priority, for the economy to grow strongly again, is to get the US sanctions reimposed or instituted by the Trump administration lifted.

Everyone supports the negotiations that are being carried out in the Austrian capital, to save this agreement through the reincorporation of the United States through the lifting of its sanctions, in exchange for Tehran reapplying the text of the JCPOA to the letter , after their successive disassociations in response to the US withdrawal.