Both Iran’s acting president and Parliament Speaker can constitutionally stand for upcoming snap election

Both Iran’s acting president and Parliament Speaker can constitutionally stand for upcoming snap election
Both the acting president of Iran Mohammad Mokhber and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Qalibaf can stand for election. / bne IntelliNews
By bne Tehran bureau May 23, 2024

With only 36 days to go to Iran’s early presidential election to pick a successor to deceased President Ebrahim Raisi a fundamental question arises whether the acting president and Parliament speaker can run for the top post.  

Mohamad Mokhber, Raisi's right-hand man and first vice president, took over to lead the government a day after the aerial mishap, which also killed Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in the foggy wooded mountains of East Azerbaijan Province.

Per the Iranian Constitution’s Principle 131, the caretaker president will also chair an interim presidential council comprising the Parliament speaker and judiciary chief to prepare for the snap election, which must be held in 50 days.

The council held its first meeting on May 20, shortly after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave the go-ahead to Mokhber to become acting president.

The trio, namely Mokhber, Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf and Chief Justice Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, have chosen June 28 as election day.

Based on what the three-member council agreed on, hopefuls can sign up for the snap election from May 30 to June 3, and campaigning begins on June 12 for 16 days until it ends a day before Iranians go to the polls.

So far, 68-year-old Mokhber has been a potential candidate to run for president under normal circumstances, and with such little time to go in the run-up to the election can stand according to the law.

Qalibaf, a former police chief and revolutionary commander turned politician, has long been yearning to become president. The 62-year-old Airbus pilot, who served as Tehran’s mayor from 2005 to 2017, has already tried his luck for high office in 2005, 2013 and 2017, but to no avail. And thanks to the dramatic chain of events after Raisi’s death, Qalibaf has been given an excellent chance to retry his luck.

However, since the two are members of a council tasked with holding the snap election under a tight schedule, can they legally run for the top executive post?

Constitutionally speaking, Mokhber as a member of the interim presidential council can enter the upcoming race.

In accordance with Principle 131 of Iran's Constitution, the “acting president” provision grants the first vice president sweeping powers akin to those of the president upon endorsement by the supreme leader. As such, the first vice president assumes the full scope of presidential responsibilities during this transitional period.

The clause stipulating “the arrangement for a new president to be elected within 50 days” as a significant responsibility of the acting president only refers to the incumbent's obligation to ensure a healthy election as the government's head.

This does not impede the nomination of the first vice president in the forthcoming election. Just as a president may pursue a second term after completing his first tenure in office, the acting president retains a similar entitlement.

Speaking about Qalibaf, first of all, the outgoing speaker joined the transitional council just one day before the current Iranian parliament held its last session.

With the new parliament set to convene on May 27, incoming legislators will soon undertake the task of voting to select a speaker from among their ranks, which adds complexity to the ongoing problems of the presidency. During this interim period, before all legal requirements have been fulfilled and the new parliament officially formed, the speaker of the previous parliament is constitutionally Iran’s top lawmaker who heads the legislative chamber and is seen as chief of one of Iran’s three branches of power.   

Given the timing of Qalibaf's induction into the interim presidential council, it is critical to note that his role as head of the legislature positions him to uphold constitutional responsibilities within this branch of government. As such, his council membership aligns with the constitution and should not be a cause for concern.

Moreover, much like Mokhber's situation, Qalibaf's involvement in the interim council does not hinder his potential candidacy in the forthcoming snap election.