Rouhani Stimulates Interest in Iran’s Next Election Cycle


As Iran approaches its next election cycle, a low voter turnout could kill prospects for the country’s peaceful transition.  This is unless its ailing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is  able to stir public interest in the 2024 and 2025 elections.  Still, fear prevails within Iran’s power echelons that voter turnout will be low in 2024. Iran will hold two major races in 2024,  including the  Assembly of Experts and parliamentary elections, followed by  the presidential race scheduled to take place in 2025.

Election concerns in Iran are compounded by the fact that the country’s current “hardliner”  President Ebrahim Raisi is unpopular because of  his repeated failures to deliver promised economic reforms and for overseeing a deadly crackdown on the anti-government protests that erupted in September 2022 in the aftermath of the killing of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. It is in this context that Raisi’s archrival, the former two-time “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani (2013-2021) is being groomed by his camp as a potential candidate for the forthcoming Assembly of Experts election. Rouhani’s candidacy is expected to stimulate a level of public interest in the race because his popularity is seemingly on the rise in inverse proportion to Raisi’s rising unpopularity.

In late October, Rouhani personally announced his candidacy for  the Assembly of Experts election, a body of 88 clerics that will select the next supreme leader of Iran.  Simultaneously, the former president called on Iranians to turn to the polls when election season starts. This will be Rouhani’s third consecutive term in the assembly since 2016, should he be re-elected.

But Rouhani has yet to prove himself as a major rival to Raisi, who is also re-running in the assembly election and still enjoys support from Iran’s powerful “hardliners.” It was earlier expected that Rouhani’s election bid might at least unseat Raisi in the assembly as  both men planned to re-run as candidates representing the Province of Tehran which occupies 16 assembly seats. But Raisi’s growing unpopularity forced his election staff to announce his candidacy for the assembly  not as a representative from Tehran, but as one from South Khorasan Province in northeastern Iran. Raisi was born and raised in Khorasan, and this move means  that he no longer  has to worry about needing to directly compete with Rouhani in the assembly election.

Additionally, there is no indication yet that Rouhani could win the needed votes from Tehran to represent the province in the assembly.  Rouhani  is yet to introduce his election staff and the faction which he will represent.  His candidacy must also be approved by the hardline Guardian Council controlled by Iran’s supreme leader. There are mounting concerns that this body might demand that Rouhani take a qualifying re-election test that might risk to disqualify him altogether. Meanwhile, the Society of Combatant Clerics and the Society of Clerical Teachers, two pro-Rouhani political factions (Rouhani was a member of the former faction), are expected to support his candidacy.

More importantly, there are concerns among Iran’s “conservative” factions that the “hardliners” could try to discredit Rouhani’s election bid. “Hardliner” members of the Assembly of Experts recently took to the podium to criticize the former president, and to demand a review of his Development Document for 2030  over its lofty economic goals which failed to bear fruit  once the United States pulled out of  the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.  Other “hardliners” have called on the assembly  to introduce a motion to disqualify Rouhani’s potential candidacy before he gets to run.

There is also speculation that Rouhani might try to get re-elected  to make it easier for him to qualify to become Iran’s next supreme leader, after Khamenei dies. When Rouhani registered as a candidate for the assembly election, he suggested that Khamenei might soon pass away.

Among Rouhani’s numerous  challenges is the fact that his brother was charged for corruption, and the former president himself now faces another financial scandal. In December, Rouhani was implicated in a $4.3billion financial scheme involving the Debsh Tea Company. According to records, the company engaged in corrupt foreign currency exchange dealings under Rouhani.  The former president has refused to take responsibility,  but has instead taken to questioning why Raisi, who headed Iran’s judiciary then, did not address the corruption taking place at the company.

“Hardliner” domination of the Assembly of Experts and  Iran’s Parliament threatens to derail a  comeback by the former president, as will the expected low voter turnout in Tehran. Meanwhile, across the vast “hardliner” spectrum in Iran,  potential candidates are emerging to run in the race and challenge Rouhani’s re-election bid.

Editorial Team