Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is facing blows from Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. At loggerheads over the mishandling of Iran’s economy, the two “hardliners” plan to run in the next Iranian presidential race, scheduled for 2025.
In light of the approaching parliamentary and presidential elections, the competition between the two political rivals is intensifying. Raisi and Ghalibaf are behaving like titans even though they both lack decisive political power. Watching over their actions is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who wants to increase voter turnout in the upcoming elections in light of waning public participation. As a result, Khamenei and a 12-member Guardian Council will carefully vet candidates for the elections as concerns mount over low voter turnout following anti-government protests last year in Iran.
Registration is already open for candidates to compete for the in 2024. The legislative body lacks real power although it works closely with the executive branch which Raisi leads. The Assembly of Experts will hold its own elections simultaneously in March 2024, and 88 clerics responsible for choosing the next supreme leader will fill the seats in the largely symbolic and marginal forum.
Raisi and Ghalibaf meanwhile may compete in the upcoming presidential race. In the last presidential race of 2021, the latter stepped down amid corruption charges. Raisi ran a promising to fight corruption and rallied the majority of the “hardliners” behind him.
Appointed as Parliament speaker in 2020, Ghalibaf has since presided along with the president over a number of state-run economic and councils. These councils grant Raisi power to decide on key economic and cultural issues, and Ghalibaf the oversight he needs to watch the president in action, which he uses to challenge his arch-rival.
In the currency crash of last year, Ghalibaf who had briefly praised Raisi for replacing the Ali Salehabadi, quickly turned against the president to promote a down of parliamentary support. The speaker attacked the president for being indecisive and disorganized, and for appointing unqualified aides to key government jobs. Ghalibaf’s aides said that Raisi was trying to slash subsidies for the poor to generate for his government.
For his bid in 2025, Ghalibaf could lose the backing of his support base in the Paydari Front for his underhand moves. The front’s members accuse the speaker of distorting numbers just to discredit the president’s proposed budget plan, which was incidentally approved by the Iranian Parliament.
Ghalibaf is also said to be unimpressed by Raisi’s achievements despite the recent normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The speaker is on record pressing to speed up the initiation of a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement with Russia, and criticizing the president for failing to monetize economic deals with China.
Raisi’s team sees Ghalibaf as an obstacle as he is trying to tarnish the president’s image. To sideline the speaker, the president has appointed to top managerial positions at district and provincial levels. Many of these positions will entail overseeing the next elections and could end up undermining Ghalibaf’s local support base.
The speaker is fighting back. In April, he voted to dismiss Reza Fatemi-Amin, the first of Raisi’s cabinet members to be impeached since the president’s election in 2020. The minister’s sacking was the for Raisi’s government in less than two years. In May, Ghalibaf wrote a letter to the president demanding clarifications on a proposed bill to regulate for government employees and retirees. In July, the two men raced against each other to join social networks, setting up new accounts on social media to build a following. By August, between them mounted when their teams took to air their mutual grievances.
Then in October, the arch-rivals met to fix Iran’s crumbling through the Economic Coordination Council. But in subsequent talks over a Seventh Development Plan bill, Ghalibaf placed parliamentary conditions on the cabinet’s creation of new executive bodies and introduced measures to decentralize electoral powers across districts and provinces to rob Raisi-appointed local managers of oversight powers in the upcoming election cycle. When the Iranian government pushed for parliamentary approval of a draft bill along with the development plan, Ghalibaf reminded the president that his previous steps to increase the budget ceiling failed when his unremarkable idea to sell public properties to generate revenue for the state faltered.
Meanwhile, members of the are divided over which of the two men should represent the group in future elections. Ghalibaf’s coalition is weakening by the day because of his endless corruption scandals. But Raisi lacks a strong voter base, not least because he led the crackdown on Iranian protestors last year and struggles to generate cash for his government. This brings into question a key problem of whether or not the two men are even qualified to run for office. This in turn casts doubt on the fate of the executive branch of Iran and calls into question its efficiency if these two men who are hardly titans remain candidates in the future race.