IRAN ELECTIONS: Hard right at the crossroads?

President Hassan Rouhani
17 MAY 2021: Two conservatives, who have close ties with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are seen as the leading contenders to succeed Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani.

Rouhani, who is considered a moderate, is not allowed to run for a third consecutive term; looking to replace him are judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and former parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani. Both have registered to run in next month’s presidential election, along with more than 300 other hopefuls. All must all now be vetted by the Guardian Council.

The 12 theologians and jurists on the council approved only six of the more than 1,600 candidates for the last election in 2017, which  Rouhani won in the first round with 57% of the vote. Mr Raisi took second place with 38% of the vote.

There has been rising discontent in Iran over the state of the country’s economy, battered by the imposition of US sanctions, reinstated in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump

Since then there has been rising discontent in Iran over the state of the country’s economy, which has been crippled by US sanctions reinstated in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump who abandoned a nuclear deal negotiated by President Rouhani that saw Iran limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. Trump’s decision was a major slap in the face for Rouhani and caused many to question whether the West could ever be trusted in its dealings with the Islamic Republic, which  stopped abiding by key commitments in response to the move.

Ebrahim Raisi

“I have come as an independent to the stage to make changes in the executive management of the country and to fight poverty, corruption, humiliation and discrimination,” the 60-year-old Mr Raisi (LEFT), said in a statement on Saturday before registering his candidacy.

Later, in an apparent dig at establishment figures like Mr Larijani and candidates allied to Mr Rouhani, the hard line cleric told journalists that “those who founded and partnered with the current situation can’t claim they can change it”. Reformists and human rights activists have expressed concerns about Mr Raisi’s background, particularly his critical role in the mass executions of several thousand political prisoners in 1988.

Ali Larijani

University Professor, Professor of Religion and International Affairs, and Director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, John Esposito noted more than 20 years ago in his book Iran At The Crossroads: “We are witnessing the redefining and reforming of the Islamic Republic, a struggle between the President Khatami’s reformist agenda and more militant conservative forces led by Ayatollah Khameni, Iran’s Supreme Religious Guide. Esposito’s words are particularly telling in this current political climate, with the Islamic Republic once again back at the crossroads.

Meanwhile, 63-year-old Ali Larijani, a conservative who has built his reputation as a former nuclear negotiator and currently serves as an adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, is using the sad state of the country’s economy as his electoral springboard. Larijani has said point blank that  other presidential hopefuls  were simply not capable of fixing the economy, particularly those with military or judicial backgrounds. “The economy is neither a garrison nor a court,” he told a news conference in Tehran. Larijani served as the Speaker of the Parliament from 2008 to 2020. He is a former officer in the Revolutionary Guards and also served as Head of the Iranian broadcasting service for 10 years from 1994.
The Guardian Council will publish a list of approved candidates on 27 May.

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