Iran’s presidential race scheduled for June 18 has not attracted much public interest. After a list of seven final uncharismatic candidates surfaced this week, it is clear that Tehran is not concerned about what the public thinks.
Tehran thoroughly vetted the presidential candidates. The Guardian Council disqualified most presidential hopefuls to clear the ground for a “hardline” candidate to win the election. The candidates approved are mainly “hardliners” who are loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite a social media campaign calling for the election to be boycotted under the hashtag “I won’t vote,” the Guardian Council has said that the election will have legitimacy even if the voter turnout is low. Iranian opinion polls indicate that less than 26 million eligible voters are expected to cast their votes in the election.
Ebrahim Raisi is poised to win the presidential race. Some very prominent presidential hopefuls stepped aside in recent days to clear the ground for Raisi such as former Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan. Dehghan insists that Raisi is the most suitable man for the presidency as he is the only candidate who can unify the country and increase Iran’s power and standing on the international scene. A number of Iranian analysts believe that if Raisi receives more than or nearly 16 million votes, which he did when he ran for the presidency in 2017, his election will seem much more legitimate. Other presidential hopefuls who might have diluted Raisi’s vote bank, such as former Parliament speaker Ali Larijani and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were disqualified to run in the presidential race.
Raisi’s opponents say he is too radical even by “hardliner” standards. What is clear is that he lacks foreign policy experience and does not have a background in managing the economy. Raisi’s supporters oppose the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and insist that Iran must not trust nor work with the United States.
Other candidates in the presidential race include the former Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili who has promised to present a roadmap to revive Iran. He has criticized the way the nuclear talks were managed under President Hassan Rouhani, however, his critics believe he is too radical. Jalili is a self-assured individual and has been accused in the past of misleading the Iranian people.
The remaining frontrunners in the presidential race include a handful of second-tier technocrats who are far less known to the public. Mohsen Mehr Ali Zadeh is the only “reformist” candidate in the race, who has a background in sports administration. Ironically, he did not receive the approval of Iran’s “reformists” to represent the current in the election. Being relatively unknown, Ali Zadeh is unlikely to stir major public interest, but it remains to be seen if he can unite the “reformists” in Iran during his presidential campaign.
The Governor of Iran’s Central Bank Abdolnasser Hemmati is another presidential candidate. He is criticized in Iran for failing to circumvent US sanctions and is accused of printing excessive sums of paper money to cover the cracks in Iran’s economy. Mohsen Rezaee, who is the secretary of the Expediency Council, is also a presidential hopeful and has tried to portray himself as an experienced statesman to win the respect of the Iranian people. He has competed in three previous presidential races with no success. Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi and Alireza Zakani, both physicians by training, are unlikely to attract much public interest during the presidential race. Hashemi spent most of his career out of politics while Zakani headed a parliamentary commission to investigate the nuclear deal. Zakani, when he attempted to contest the presidential race in the past, was disqualified twice.
These presidential candidates reflect the desire of the supreme leader to ensure a “hardline” government in Tehran. The new government might possibly attempt to revive the nuclear deal, but there is no doubt that it will aim to lift the US sanctions imposed on Tehran and resist international pressure by striving to build a stronger and more unified central government, backed by the “hardline” state-owned media and the country’s formidable military establishment.