The Iranian regime has approved of six presidential candidacies, disqualifying over 1,600 — including over 130 women — who filed to run. The “election” will be held on May 19, followed by a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no candidate wins a majority.
Before reviewing the candidates, we should look at how this sham “election” takes place.
To run for president in Iran, the Guardian Council must approve of the candidacy. Only six of over 1,600 candidacies were approved. Thus, it must be assumed that any distinction being mentioned between “moderate” and “conservative” candidates is very minor. The debates and emphasis on these distinctions make these differences seem much bigger than they really are. All the candidates profess loyalty to the theocratic regime and its proclaimed “Islamic Revolution” for Iran and the world.
Who makes up the Guardian Council? Pro-regime clerics chosen directly or indirectly by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
This is more like a party primary of theocrats than a general election as Americans are used to. And even that characterization is generous as it assumes that the vote count is legitimate and the result isn’t decided in advance.
You might think it’s obvious that this isn’t a democratic election, but I once had a professor—a highly credentialed “expert” on the Middle East and Islam—deduct points from one of my assignments for “incorrectly” claiming Iran isn’t a democracy!
Nonetheless, there have been some differences between the past and present presidents of Iran. For instance, Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) was more ferocious in his rhetoric and confrontational in his foreign policy than Khatami (1997-2005) and Rouhani (2013-current). The latter two are referred to as “moderate,” charade used to win concessions from the West.
Here are the six candidates approved to run:
Raisi is considered to be the Supreme Leader’s favored candidate and, therefore, the frontrunner. He was previously thought to be Khamenei’s most likely replacement. He could win the presidency in order to enhance his lackluster credentials and then become Supreme Leader, as Khamenei did. He is a true hardliner that one expert says “could be the only person in the Islamic Republic who could cause people to miss Khamenei.”
In 2014, he promised harsher crackdowns on internal opponents, saying, “The Islamic System has treated the heads of the sedition with mercy. Those who sympathize with the heads of sedition must know that the great nation of Iran will never forgive this great injustice.”
Raisi was on a “Death Commission” that ordered the massacring thousands of regime opponents in 1988. He is a mid-level cleric that has “spent his entire career in the Islamic Republic’s enforcement arm,” crushing dissent and forcing religious leaders to act as regime mouthpieces.
He married into Khamenei’s inner circle. He also leads the Imam Reza Shrine, a “charity” with $15 billion in shadowy funds. One Iranian opposition group sees Raisi’s candidacy as Khamenei’s way of “preserving his unquestionable dominion over this financial empire and to fill the pockets of the regime’s leaders from its astronomical income while providing for the growing expenses of the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen from the pockets of the deprived Iranian people.”
President Hassan Rouhani
Rouhani has been president of Iran since 2013 and positions himself as a “moderate” reformist that favors greater engagement with the West. He was Iran’s lead negotiator for talks about the nuclear program and, during his first presidential campaign, boasted of using diplomacy to divide the West and buy time for Iran’s nuclear program to advance.
Rouhani’s nuclear deal with the U.S. has made him an opponent of more hardline elements of the Iranian regime, such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is a terrorist organization, mafia group, business monopoly and government all in one.
Rouhani is therefore seen as the most popular (or least hated) among the Iranian people of the six candidates, but his viability is in question because of opposition from the IRGC, other hardline elements and possibly Supreme Leader Khamenei himself.
If Khamenei doesn’t want to risk another Green Revolution by rigging the vote count, then Rouhani could win re-election.
Tehran Mayor Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf
Qalibaf is a conservative that could take some votes from Raisi. Ghalibaf led the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Air Force from 1997 to 2000, was the police chief from 2000 to 2005 and then replaced Ahmadinejad as the mayor of Tehran.
This is his third presidential attempt. He is a hardliner but sometimes presents a moderate image, such as when he visited a Jewish retirement home in April 2016. He is described by the American Enterprise Institute as being “generally supportive” of the nuclear deal.
Former Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mostafa Mir-Salim
Mir-Salem is another candidate that could split the conservative vote and undermine Raisi. Salim has held senior positions in the regime since 1979. He was even shot during the Islamic Revolution.
As the minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, he played a significant role in crushing dissent, instilling the Islamic Republic’s ideology into the populace and keeping Western influence and moderate thinking out of the country.
He is a critic of the nuclear deal. However, a large majority of the contracts enabled by the deal benefit the regime’s leaders, so he and other candidates may criticize the deal but they don’t have any intention of scrapping it.
Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri
Jahangiri is currently the vice president. He was previously the minister of Industries and Mines and the governor of Isfahan. He is a “moderate” reformist candidate that could take votes away from Rouhani.
Jahangiri is a close associate of General Qassem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards figure that spearheads Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and assistance to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. He is a supporter of the nuclear deal. One of the companies benefiting from the deal is led by Jahangiri’s brother.
Former Industry Minister Mostafa Hashemitaba
Hashemitaba held his highest-ranking position in the 1980s and already tried to run for president in 2001. He styles himself as a “moderate” reformist, so he’s likely to take votes from Rouhani’s base.
Iran’s first presidential debate will be held on Friday, but regardless of how this presidential “election” turns out, remember that the population is not voting on the Islamic Republic or its Islamic Revolution. Both are here to stay, no matter who the winner is.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak please contact us.