10.06.2024 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Iran is entering a difficult presidential election

Iran is entering a difficult presidential election

As the deadline for registering candidates for the upcoming presidential elections approaches, there is a noticeable surge in political activity in Iran. Numerous candidates from different walks of life are rushing to submit their applications, preparing for what the Iranian media thinks will be a ‘transformative election’.

Rules for the registration of candidates and the general situation in the country

The five-day registration period began on May, 30 and ended on June, 3 and the final list of candidates will be published on June, 11. Early elections were triggered by the tragic death of President Raisi in a helicopter crash on May, 19 which also killed Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and six others.

Iranian law requires candidates to be between the ages of 40 and 75, have at least a master’s degree and four years of experience in public administration or related fields. All candidates must be vetted by the 12-member Constitutional Council and the Ministry of Internal Affairs will release the names of suitable candidates on June, 11. This rigorous process ensures that only the most capable and experienced individuals will be considered, thereby maintaining the integrity of the election. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told reporters that the country is at a sensitive stage after the death of the president, but management of affairs has not failed thanks to “the wise instructions of the leader of the Islamic Revolution and the rules established by the Constitution”. At the moment, such prominent figures as Said Jalili, former Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Mostafa Kavakebian, Secretary General of the Democratic Party Mardomsalari, Ali Larijani, former Speaker of Parliament, and many other well-known politicians in the country have registered.

Iranian media writes that the enthusiasm associated with the registration period not only highlighted the dynamic political environment, but also the resilience and unity of the nation in the face of adversity. At the same time, the general mood in Iran as the election’s approach is a mixture of cautious optimism and resolute engagement. This period of political activity is a testament to the strength of the democratic processes in Iran and the commitment of its people to participate in shaping their future.

The presidential campaigns will begin on June, 12 and last until June, 27, which gives candidates enough time to present their platforms to the electorate. These elections represent a critical moment for Iran, providing an opportunity to review its domestic and international policies and address complex issues such as economic sanctions and regional tensions. The sharp increase in the number of registered candidates in the presidential elections marks a dynamic turning point in the country’s political development. Iran is holding its breath, following the election campaign and hoping that this electoral process will open a new era of progress, stability and unity.

The difficult search for a president

Many politicians reasonably point out that with the death of Ebrahim Raisi, Iran may face problems of leadership continuity. When he was elected the eighth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran in August 2021, many considered him the most likely heir to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had been preparing him for the role for decades. Raisi, aged 64, died in a helicopter crash in the mountainous areas of north-western Iran along with other officials, and Khamenei immediately tried to assure the Iranians that state affairs would continue as usual. However, the death has sparked speculation as to who will succeed the aging Khamenei as Iran’s supreme leader.

This may also spark a debate about the consequences of new leadership in Iran for its relations with the outside world and, in particular, with regional powers. Détente with Saudi Arabia and reconciliation with Egypt were hallmarks of Iran’s foreign policy under Raisi. The sudden death came as Iran, under Raisi and Khamenei, faced a major direct military conflict following an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel last month, following a period of mediated confrontation or a tit-for-tat cycle of retaliation.

Prior to taking office as President, Raisi held the posts of Deputy Prosecutor and Prosecutor of Tehran, Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court, Prosecutor General and Chief Judge. He also served as the custodian and chairman of the Razavi Temple in Mashhad, Iran’s most revered Shi’a shrine. Raisi, a political hardliner, attracted Khamenei’s attention as he continued to demonstrate an uncompromising commitment to the revolutionary founding principles of the Islamic Republic, prompting rumors that the Supreme Leader was considering him as his potential successor. According to the Iranian constitution, the First Vice President, in this case Mohammad Mokhber, and a council, consisting of the First Vice President, the Speaker of Parliament and the head of the judiciary, take office in the event of the death of the president with the approval of the Supreme Leader before the election of a new president within a maximum period of 50 days. Any potential candidate must be approved by the Guardian Council, a group of clerics and lawyers that decides who is allowed to run in elections.

What will the ruling theocracy decide?

However, Iran has a closed political system completely under the control of the ruling theocracy, and the Supreme Leader has the last say in all state issues in the multinational country. State institutions and politics are nominally separate and Iran is sometimes referred to as a country with a ‘multi-level’ political system, in which separate roles are assigned to government, legislative, military, judicial and political positions. While the process of finding a replacement for Raisi may be relatively quick, the most honest answer to the question of who will replace the 85-year-old Khamenei as the country’s supreme leader is simple: nobody knows. According to the constitution, only a prominent cleric with serious political experience, known as Velayat-e Faqih, can become the supreme leader of Iran. The supreme leader is appointed and watched over by the Assembly of Experts, whose members are approved by the powerful Guardian Council.

Over the past 45 years, observers have disagreed as to the nature of Iran’s factional politics and some have even questioned whether there are real differences between the so-called moderate, conservative and ultraconservative groups in the country. Iranian analysts and intelligence experts have differing opinions about Khamenei’s succession, although they can all agree that a lot is at stake as Iran goes through a new and delicate transition period. While some believe that there are several other contenders for the post who could achieve the appointment by getting closer to Khamenei, others believe that the closed political process in Iran makes the succession process more complicated and intriguing.

Some in the first camp believe that the issue of Khamenei’s successor has already been resolved, even if the candidates run for the office and one of them wins. A number of clerics who enjoy the support of Khamenei and his inner circle, including his son Mojtaba Khamenei, are said to be leaders in the fight for the post. However, others expect that the choice of a new supreme leader will provoke a fierce power struggle in which the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) may be involved and, therefore, will have an impact on the smooth and secure transfer of power – and even on the future of the regime.

The Islamic Republic has previously experienced power struggles in the public sphere, governance, security forces, media and the economy. One of the major manifestations of factional strife was seen in the dispute over the 2009 presidential elections, which caused disagreements between the government and the opposition over the results. Supporters of former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi accused the government of falsifying the results of the vote in favor of incumbent President Ahmed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The protests soon became violent, and the apolitical ‘Iranian Green Movement’ emerged after the elections and lasted until early 2010. It demanded Ahmadinejad’s removal from office.

One recent power struggle was described by former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who shed light on the IRGC’s deep distrust of former President Hassan Rouhani. In his book ‘The Depth of Patience’, Zarif, who served as foreign minister during Rouhani’s tenure, revealed that IRGC commanders did not support the decision to attack US bases in retaliation for the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Al-Quds forces, in January 2020. Earlier, both Rouhani and Zarif were criticised by hardliners for the 2015 nuclear deal with major world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Now, though, all attention is focused on two pressing issues: revealing the true cause of the helicopter crash that killed Raisi and his crew and the next presidential election, which is scheduled to take place in 50 days in accordance with the constitution. Much remains unclear in connection with the helicopter crash on May, 16, which authorities attributed to bad weather. Many Iranians have started to speculate about government incompetence, nefarious motives or even an outside conspiracy and demand the truth. The succession of Raisi may be difficult, especially in finding the ideal candidate for the factional regime. Fears are growing that moderate politicians will be banned from participating in elections, as the regime did in the March parliamentary elections, which were largely boycotted by Iranian voters.

Among the key possible contenders are Acting President Mohammed Mokhber, Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Baqer Ghalibaf and head of the judiciary Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i. They all follow a hard line and are believed to enjoy the support of the main conservative political factions and many IRGC units. Tightening the noose on potential opposition and moderate candidates and limiting the race between a small circle of notorious hardliners will deepen the regime’s crisis of legitimacy and undermine Iran’s political structure.

It is logical to conclude that the unexpected death of Raisi is bad for Iran and its leadership, who were caught off guard by this change, struggling to resist internal and external challenges. The election of a new president will show how well Iran will pass this next test.


Victor MIKHIN, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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