A Guide to Navigate Iran’s 2024 Presidential Elections

Iran flag
The flag of Iran (Credits: See File history below for details., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Persian Files ISSN 2975-0598 Volume 23 Issue 1
Author: Silvia Boltuc

The death of President Raisi and his delegation in a helicopter crash on May 19th, 2024, near the village of Uzi in East Azerbaijan, has significantly altered Iran’s political landscape.

This tragic event precipitated snap presidential elections, originally scheduled for 2025, now set for June 28th, 2024. The accelerated timeline has left insufficient time for candidates to adequately prepare and conduct a thorough electoral campaign, making it difficult to predict the outcome of the elections.

Candidates’ background

Among the individuals who submitted their candidacy papers, the Guardian Council selected six candidates deemed eligible to run. Notably, among the 74 rejected candidates were prominent figures such as former moderate Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad’s disqualification was not surprising, as he had been disqualified twice in the past. Furthermore, Iranian former President has been criticising the system, the Vilayat-e Faqih, and the centrality of religious figures for years. A few years ago, Ahmadinejad was accused of belonging to a deviant sect due to his reverence for the figure of the Hidden Imam.

On the contrary, the disqualification of Ali Ardeshir Larijani came as a surprise. As a moderate conservative, Larijani could have attracted votes from both conservatives and reformists, making him a potentially strategic choice. Before being disqualified, Larijani declared that he would have lifted sanctions by reviving the JCPOA.

Ghalibaf, who began its career during the Iran-Iraq war, is a moderate conservative, on the contrary of Jalili who is a hardliner. Indeed, there might be a split among the votes of those who vote for the conservatives which might favour a little the only reformist candidate. Although, the supporters of the reformists are those who lost faith in the electoral process and it is still not clear if they will go to vote.

Ghalibaf was re-elected as Speaker of Iran’s new parliament following Raisi’s passing, subsequent to the low-turnout parliamentary election on March 1st, 2024. Despite securing re-appointment, he encountered criticism from hardline factions on this occasion. This situation suggests that neither he nor Jalili are inclined to withdraw from the elections to endorse the other.

Many interpreted Ghalibaf re-election to parliament as a sign that he would abstain from running for the presidency. However, contrary to these expectations, his re-election may have been a means to assess his broader political support.

He has served as mayor of Tehran, Iran’s Chief of Police, and Commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Air Force, appointed directly by Khamenei. While he undoubtedly commands political backing, his support among the general population remains uncertain.

Masoud Pezeshkian, the sole reformist candidate, has previously served as Minister of Health under Khatami and enjoys substantial support in the northwest of Iran due to his Azerbaijani ethnicity and professional history in Tabriz. In 2009, during the Green Movement, he openly condemned the government’s crackdown on protests. His candidacy approval by the Guardian Council was uncertain, possibly included to foster the appearance of competitive elections and boost voter turnout. Pezeshkian has also criticised the imposition of religion on citizens.

Despite being relatively unknown and lacking a high-profile political status, he has the potential to mobilise reformist voters and appeal to ethnic minorities, given his mixed Azerbaijani-Kurdish heritage. He has actively championed linguistic minority rights and advocates for Azerbaijani language use in regional schools. He is also involved in an Iran-Turkey friendship association. Years ago, he publicly stated his gratitude to God for being created as a Turk, emphasising that no ethnicity should claim superiority over another.

Nevertheless, despite his repeated calls for the inclusion of ethnic minority languages alongside Farsi to mitigate separatist and dissident exploitation of ethnic tensions, this stance may pose a challenge for those who do not endorse such openness. Moreover, in this brief electoral campaign, many have already labelled him as lacking charisma and unsuccessful in mobilising reformists to participate in voting. Interestingly, an independent survey conducted during the brief electoral campaign among Iranian citizens revealed that he has notable support among those who are undecided about voting.

Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a radical conservative who aligns closely with the Principlist faction, served as Vice President under Raisi. Within Iranian politics, “principlist” refers to the conservative supporters of the Supreme Leader of Iran and advocates for protecting the ideological “principles” of the Islamic Revolution’s early days.

Coming from a politically influential family, Hashemi’s cousin served as Minister of Health under President Rouhani, and his brother currently holds a seat in the Islamic Consultative Assembly. His ascent in Iranian politics is underscored by his election as the First Deputy Speaker in the eleventh Majlis, highlighting his increasing influence. Notably, he secured a fourth-place finish in the 2021 elections.

Hashemi has been heading the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs since 2021. This organisation plays a crucial role in addressing the needs of Iran-Iraq war veterans who were injured or disabled, as well as supporting the families of those who lost their lives – a cause that resonates deeply with Hashemi, who himself sustained a leg injury during the war at the age of fifteen.

Alireza Zakani, a radical conservative, currently serves as the Mayor of Tehran. He was a member of the Basij during the Iran-Iraq war and has had a diverse career path, spanning from military service to founding the weekly magazine Panjereh and the news website Jahan News. He also represented Qom in the Majlis.

Zakani has faced disqualification twice in previous presidential elections in Iran. In 2021, he withdrew from the race to support Raisi. He has been the subject of scrutiny for corruption allegations multiple times, while also publicly expressing his commitment to combatting corruption within Iranian elites.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, politician and prosecutor, is a conservative. He has been Minister of Interior, Minister of Justice, Deputy Intelligence Minister and Deputy Minister of Information. In the past, is appointment as a minister sparked some criticism internationally over his role in the 1988 execution of political prisoners. However, he is the only cleric running, although he is not a Sayyid.

His part in the 1988 executions and his work in the Ministry of Intelligence, might create some difficulties in case of elections for foreign trip or relations with the Western world.

Iran government power structure
Iran government power structure (Credits: SPQR10, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Iranian President’s duties

The President, as the highest authority after the Supreme Leader, leads the executive branch of government. After the elections, the newly elected President will present his cabinet to the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Additionally, he will appoint deputies to head various national organisations. We have already mentioned in the analysis an example of this double role, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a candidate in the election, who has been leading the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs since 2021 and served as Vice President under Raisi.

In foreign policy, while he generally adheres to the direction set by the Supreme Leader, the President holds the authority to sign international agreements, accept the credentials of foreign ambassadors, and appoint Iranian ambassadors abroad.

It is worth noting that, in many instances, whether concerning agreements with foreign states or deciding the national budget, the President of Iran requires the approval of the Parliament. Indeed, the Majlis wields significant power over the President and the Ministers, as it holds the authority to impeach or depose any of them under specific circumstances. However, beyond the technicalities, one must consider the network of alliances, interests, and the level of support that government representatives have within the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Conversely, when the Parliament or the Guardian Council approves the economic budget or laws, it is the President who must sign and implement them for execution.

Among the President’s responsibilities is chairing several Supreme Councils, most notably the Supreme National Security Council, alongside some of his cabinet ministers. This Council oversees and regulates the activities of military and security institutions.

The President also chairs other councils, such as the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, the Supreme Cyberspace Council, and the Economy Council. Regarding economic matters, the President holds significant importance in Iran, where approximately eighty percent of the economy is government-run, including the Central Bank. The President appoints the head of the Iranian Central Bank and is responsible for drafting the annual budget bill, which is then submitted to the Parliament and subsequently to the Guardian Council for approval.

To summarise the President’s duties: although his actions must align with the directives of the Supreme Leader and frequently require approval from the Majlis, or the Guardian Council, his responsibilities are extensive. They include signing international agreements, appointing key figures such as ministers and the head of the Central Bank, addressing the basic needs of the populace – relying heavily on the public budget for housing, education, health services, and food security – chairing significant councils, particularly in the areas of security, dealing with administrative and employment affairs, and more.

Notably, in the event of the Supreme Leader’s demise or resignation, the President will be one of the three members of the Assembly of Experts, the deliberative body empowered to appoint a new Supreme Leader.

Electoral Debates

During the three debates broadcasted by IRIB, the electoral candidates articulated their policy platforms in the event of winning the presidency. The debates covered a broad spectrum of issues, including the economy, healthcare, and culture. Key topics such as negotiations with the United States over the nuclear deal were addressed. Jalili argued that Iran should not be held back by negotiations with a few countries, whereas Ghalibaf identified sanctions as a major dilemma that must be resolved through negotiations, ensuring that Washington cannot harm Tehran.

Cultural activities and the rise of uncontrolled forms of art and trends in cyberspace were also significant points of discussion. Pezeshkian declared that his administration would prioritise cultural governance without interference from other agencies. Regarding internet bans and restrictions, he highlighted the significant job losses caused by extensive filtering and expressed his willingness to lift these measures. However, he emphasised that in the event of a crisis, he supports the potential for a temporary shutdown to maintain control.

Hashemi emphasized that any movement sowing discord among Iranians is detrimental and pledged to enhance support for artists, tourism activists, and media professionals.

In the economic domain, Hashemi, citing his successful leadership of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs, advocated for the transfer of governmental assets to the Iranian populace. Ghalibaf emphasized the president’s role in protecting familial purchasing power, proposing consumer-focused subsidy distribution and salary increases to combat inflation. Pourmohammadi stressed the importance of justice in subsidy distribution to empower marginalized communities. Zakani proposed an extensive welfare package, including healthcare and social benefits such as a fixed gold equivalent per family to counteract inflation. Pezeshkian highlighted the necessity of controlling inflation and promoting energy conservation through public education, while Jalili championed equitable resource allocation and corruption-free consumption management.

The issue of women was another key topic in the discussion, highlighting how Iranian political figures, in response to public unrest during Raisi’s presidency, have recognised the necessity of addressing this matter to maintain consensus in an evolving society. Hashemi noted that 95 percent of Iranian women are literate, with many holding academic degrees, yet a significant number remain unemployed due to jobs traditionally designed for men. Jalili emphasised that Iran should not censor the significant contributions of women in various fields.

Hashemi criticised the West’s approach to women, pointing to the violence against women and children in Palestine as evidence. In contrast, Pezeshkian reiterated his opposition to any violent or forceful behavior towards individuals, consistent with his stance during previous unrests. Zakani asserted that, according to Islam, women should be viewed as opportunities rather than issues, and he advocated for legal and respectful treatment of women who do not adhere to proper hijab regulations.

Conclusions

According to a survey conducted by the GAAMAN centre 10 days before elections, among those who intend to vote, Masoud Pezeshkian and Said Jalili have more votes compared to other candidates, and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf is in third place. About 18% of voters still haven’t decided who to vote for. Among those who have not yet decided on participating in the elections, Masoud Pezeshkian is more popular than other candidates. In addition, about 15% of those who are undecided about participating in the election are likely to vote blank (invalid).

All the candidates, including the reformist Pezeshkian, assured that they would adhere to the Supreme Leader’s guidance and continue the path initiated by Raisi. In light of Iran’s predominantly government-run economy, many candidates promised various subsidies, despite the challenges posed by sanctions and the lack of an oil export surplus. This highlights the centrality of economic issues and inflation in the population’s discontent. Similarly, the issue of women’s rights has been significant. As Iran grapples with increasing secularisation, creating tensions between society and the government, all candidates expressed a willingness to improve women’s employment opportunities and rights.

Currently, there are two noteworthy trends to monitor. The only reformist candidate allowed to run, likely due to his low profile and limited public recognition, has garnered more support than anticipated, as confirmed by several surveys. This has raised concerns among conservative candidates, none of whom have shown a willingness to withdraw to consolidate votes. Regarding the two leading conservative candidates, Ghalibaf and Jalili, neither is inclined to step aside in favour of the other.

Initially, Ghalibaf was considered the frontrunner, but emerging corruption allegations and a less effective campaign have seemingly boosted Jalili’s candidacy. As the situation remains fluid, SpecialEurasia will continue to monitor these evolving trends.


For further information, analyses, or reports about Iran, feel free to contact us at info@specialeurasia.com.

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