The Guardian Council, the undemocratic governmental body which oversees Iranian elections and filters candidates who can run for elections, has released the names of candidates who can run for election in a month, cutting down the field from more than a thousand candidates to only six.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s former president, paid the price of defying the Supreme Leader by being barred from running for office. In the last election a former president was also barred. No one on his team was approved either. He knew this would happen going in, but this is not the place to get into the game he’s playing. It’s time to meet the actual candidates.
1. Hassan Rouhani, incumbent president
Some people were worried that Rouhani might be barred from the election because of the ways he had defied the Supreme Leader in his first term, or simply because they wanted a conservative back in power. But it was clear that the political price would be too much for the regime, and they let him run again.
Rouhani’s first term was fantastic, and I would say he’s been our best president in history. He succeeded in making the nuclear deal possible, and that affects Iranian politics in a very positive way, and preventing war. Economically, he has taken Iran out of stagnation, reducing inflation, increasing growth, creating universal healthcare, removing crippling sanctions, preventing drought, and basically pulling the nation away from the brink of bankruptcy, becoming as bad as Greece or Venezuela or even worse. Politically, he has improved free speech, gender equality, and academic freedom, but to a far lesser degree than his economic achievements. Most importantly, by creating a cheap and fast internet, he has created an alternative media to regime’s media monopoly, a media that reaches 40 million people and makes censorship impossible.
That said, Iran’s economy is still very bad, and Iran is still very far from being on a true reformist path. People are right to be dissatisfied. However, will they wrongly blame Rouhani instead of the rest of the regime, that backs his rivals? The question remains to be answered.
Read more: Why I Support Rouhani
2. Ebrahim Raisi, custodian of Imam Reza’s Shrine
This man seemed to be Rouhani’s main conservative rival, but now his position seems to be challenged by Tehran’s mayor, who seems to be able to take his place as the main conservative candidate. Anyway, I have already written about him, and I will copy/paste and summarize the relevant parts again:
Ebrahim Raisi is a far-right extremist Islamist cleric who was on the death committee who murdered thousands of political prisoners in 1980s, and as an official in the judiciary, responsible for repression throughout his political life. He is one of the worst offenders of human rights and a mass murderer. He has called the sharia-sanctioned punishment of amputating the hands of thieves “an honor for the Islamic regime”, he is known to have used death sentence far more liberally than most judges, and he is known to have condemned people to stoning.
The conventional wisdom holds that he is a viable threat to Rouhani. He allegedly has the power to unite all conservatives, and allegedly all the repressive regime apparatus will work to make him president. Of course, none of this has happened yet. The confusing factor is that recently there have been great signs that Raisi is being considered as a viable successor to Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. Will they cheat for him? Will he drop out? Is this a test for him? All these will be answered soon.
3. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran Mayor
Ghalibaf is an enigmatic figure. He is a conservative, but it’s never been clear how moderate or radical he is. He clearly really wants to become president, and he is willing to don any mask that enables him to get closer to this goal. He was the chief commander of police, and he modernized the police and under him it had the best possible relationship with people, but he also endorsed many repressive tactics. He has been Tehran’s mayor for 12 years, and he has completed many major civic projects, improving Tehran’s infrastructure, however he has been very inefficient in curbing Tehran’s main problems of traffic and pollution, and in the last year he has become completely mired in one financial scandal after another.
This is the third time he has run for office. In 2005, he presented a very moderate image of himself, hoping to steal reformist votes. That caused conservatives to switch from him to Ahmadinejad, and he ended at 4th position. In 2013 he was a more traditional conservative, yet he wanted to be moderate. But Rouhani destroyed him in the debates by pointing out his repressive positions and some lies. He ended up 2nd, with 12 million votes behind Rouhani. This year he presents himself as a right-wing populist.
If you ask me, he is no more a real political factor, and he will be eroded by Raisi as conservative option. Reformists and radical conservatives hate him, and he is known to be corrupt financially. But on the other hand, he has access to media and money, and he has been 2nd to Rouhani in a number of polls. Will he refuse to drop out for Raisi if he thinks he can win? Will conservatives consider him a more pragmatic option than Raisi and coalesce around him?
Personally, I think Ghalibaf is a corrupt thief and a hypocritical conservative with no real principles, and would love to see him lose for the third time. But of course he’s much superior to Raisi.
4, 5, 6. The Marginal Candidates
The next president of Iran will most likely will be one of the previous three people. But nothing is impossible in Iranian politics! In 2005, everyone would have placed Ahmadinejad in this slot at this point. So here’s a very short introduction to the last remaining three. Their photos is on the lower row of the group picture, from left to right.
Eshagh Jahangiri: He is Rouhani’s First Vice President, and a reformist. He doesn’t plan to win, he is there simply to give support to Rouhani by getting allotted TV spots and taking parts in debates, making sure that the conservatives don’t gang up on him, making sure that the administration gets some time to defend itself in the official media. He will drop out before the election day.
Mostafa Mir-Salim: He used to be Iran’s Minister of Islamic Guidance and Culture, and writers and journalists don’t remember him fondly, as he was very pro-censorship. A member of Islamic Coalition Party, he belongs to traditional conservatives and have lost their prominence in Iranian politics. Their base right now is mostly devoutly religious merchants, most of whom are dead now.
Mostafa Hashemitaba: He used to be the Minister of Industries and the Head of National Olympic Committee. No one knows if he is a reformist or a conservative, but he has been attacking Rouhani in a pretty vicious and untruthful way, so he’s acting like a conservative? He has run for presidency once before in 2001, coming away with a whopping 0.1% of the votes, coming 11th in a field of 10 candidates (the number of invalid votes were more than the number of votes for 7 candidates in that election).
Rouhani: Meghdad Madadi, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, via Tasnim News Agency
Raisi: Meghdad Madadi, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, via Tasnim News
Ghalibaf: Seyed Shahabbodin Vajedi, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, via Akkase Mosalman
Jahangiri: Meghdad Madadi, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, via Tasnim News
Mir-Salim: Meghdad Madadi, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, via Tasnim News
Hashemitaba: Marizad Kouchari, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, via Tasnim News