TEHRAN BLOG: Iranians sceptical about the slate of potential presidential candidates

TEHRAN BLOG: Iranians sceptical about the slate of potential presidential candidates
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad teases other potential candidates with his popularity in walks around west Tehran. / CC: Dolat Bahar
By bne Tehran bureau May 28, 2024

As media speculation intensifies over potential candidates vying to be president after the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash on May 19, many in Iran are lamenting the state of things on the chat boards in the country.

Snap elections in Iran are scheduled for June 28; until then, the government is run by acting president Mohammad Mokhber, who also sees himself as a potential candidate for the presidency but has yet to make the announcement. So far, like Mokhber, most anticipated nominees have remained noncommittal about their plans to pursue the presidency, whereas a select few have confirmed their bid for the country’s highest office.

So far, the nomination of Saeed Jalili, a hardliner politician and member of the Supreme National Security Council, has been confirmed in the media, at least informally. At the other end of the spectrum, Masoud Pezeshkian has stated his intention to seek office from the so-called reformists, saying his primary goal is to help increase voter turnout and disprove the prevailing idea that Iranians are disillusioned with the electoral process.

The last presidential election 2021 broke records of the lowest turnout in Iranian electoral history, with just 48.48% of eligible voters casting ballots. Meanwhile, the parliamentary election earlier this year on March 1 was even worse and marked a historic low voter turnout of 40.64%. The dire situation is widely blamed on the disqualification of famous figures, chiefly from the reformists but even several conservatives, by the biased Guardian Council, a body in charge of assessing the volunteers’ qualifications.

The X election

Further, the participation of Mohsen Mehralizadeh from the reformists has also been informally confirmed by a person from his circle. Using the username Elias, he wrote on X.com that the decision for Mehralizadeh's registration has been finalised. Mehralizadeh was a candidate in the 2005 elections, in which he ranked last. He ran again in 2021 as the only representative of the reformists but withdrew two days prior to the election date.

Several anticipated candidates have also made clear that they have no intention to run for office, including Judiciary Chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei. His office announced in a statement that he has absolutely no intention to step on the electoral path for the head of government and will remain focused on his duties in the judiciary.

Mohsen Rezaei, a perennial presidential candidate who has run for the post five times, is refraining from attending the competition, according to the head of his political party’s electoral campaign. Meisam Nadei quoted Rezaei as saying that he will “definitely not enter the electoral race”, although he has refused to confirm, saying he is weighing the situation. Instead, Nadi has suggested that Mehrdad Bazrpash, Raisi’s minister of roads, will most probably represent the group known as Sharyan in the upcoming election.

In more leftfield announcements, former president Raisi’s wife, Jamileh Alamolhoda, will not seek to take over his late husband’s position, according to his brother, Hamed, Alamolhoda. Women are informally banned from the role previously, and nothing suggests that would change this time around. 

Former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has assured reporters that he will not participate in the election with a decisive “No”.

Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is among those whose possible candidacy has been informally rejected by people from his inner circle.

In the meantime, Ali Larijani, former parliament speaker who was disqualified in the previous poll, has answered reporters who asked about his intentions with “Let’s see”.

Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani’s political party has announced its support for him, but he says he needs more time to consult and consider the decision. Mohsen is the son of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and influential figure in establishing the Islamic Republic. He would be a potential threat to hardliners if he were to lead his father's previous faction backed by business leaders in the country.

In a blast from the past, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he needs to decide prudently to ensure his presidency would “help the people, solve a problem and further advance the country”. In contrast, his previous attempts at regaining power in the country were quickly shunned by the authorities. Despite his previous hardline position, often at the behest of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad has grown his own power base in his years in the wilderness. 

Iranians remain unconvinced 

Many in Iran express scepticism about the slate of potential candidates, questioning their true capabilities and worthiness to lead the nation.

"The issue is not people's abilities, it's about approval by the Guardian Council," said one anonymous commenter, alluding to the candidate vetting process. Another criticised the rise of inexperienced candidates, saying, "In a country where Barzapash entered politics just by knowing Ahmadinejad and became Minister of Urban Development without any achievements, it's not surprising that some consider themselves worthy of the presidency".

Others praised specific figures like Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf for his political insight and managerial abilities, while dismissing other rumoured candidates as lacking strategic vision or leadership track records. Questions were also raised about Ghalibaf's family wealth.

Some took aim at the Guardian Council, demanding they be held accountable for candidate disqualifications. "The Guardian Council should be answerable about the disqualifications," stated one respondent. However, another countered that "incompetent individuals should not be approved, lest they push the country into crisis".

President Ebrahim Raisi still has staunch defenders, with one declaring, "After Mr Raisi, no one else stands out. There is no one better than him." But others complain of "the same repetitive faces, repetitive performance, repetitive words".

Key voter priorities mentioned include lifting sanctions, addressing slow internet speeds and online censorship, and improving the economy and people's livelihoods. "People are suffering from poverty and pain, the president must have a plan for poverty alleviation and improving people's welfare!" exclaimed a commenter.

The influx of Afghan immigrants was cited as a major challenge as well, with calls for candidates to have a plan to return millions to their home country. Their presence is blamed for destroying job opportunities, youth unemployment, delayed marriages due to lack of work, threatening Iran's language and culture, and disrupting the population balance.

Turnout is on the minds of many, with a supporter of conservative candidates Saeed Jalili and Parviz Fattah speculating they could prevail in a low participation election. Others pine for a "free and participatory" election in which reformists would rout the ruling faction.

Through it all, a sense of cynicism is palpable. "The same people come and go and are replaced in positions and posts," one lamented. Another suggested the Asr Iran news site should open a page for the public to directly question the candidates on their plans.