Iranian Presidential Elections

The Iranian presidential elections are upon us! Friday the 19th of May will see Iranians go to the polls. Much is up for grabs – from the direction of the Nuclear deal to the handling of the economy. Here are the core aspects you need to know ahead of the results on Monday!

Iranian Power Structures

Presidents are elected for four-year terms and, similarly to the US may only serve for two consecutive terms. The president is the head of the executive branch and is responsible for ensuring the constitution is implemented. This is not always the case, however. The power that the president wields is largely dependent on how much power the supreme leader and clerics decide to give. It is the Supreme Leader – Ali Khamenei – not the president that is the head of the armed forces, defense, and responsible for major foreign policy. The Cabinet are chosen by the president but are ratified by parliament, further limiting the power held by the President. If no candidate wins 50% of the popular vote, there will be a second round of voting soon afterwards.

Iranian Parliament – the Majlis – consists of 290 seats, 285 of which are directly elected. 3 seats are reserved for representatives of Zoroastrian, Jewish, Assyrian Christian faiths as well as two representatives from the Armenian citizenry. The Majlis has the power to pass and create laws as well as powers of impeachment. Parliament elections are every four years.

The Guardian Council consists of 12 members who are responsible for interpreting the Iranian constitution, ratifying legislation, approving Presidential appointments and the supervision of elections. They consist of six members who are experts in Islamic Law. These are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The other six are jurists who are selected by parliament – the six members should specialize in different aspects of the law.

Iranian Presidential Elections Backdrop:

Iran, as with many other countries, is split into two broad voter groups. On the one side, the largely rural conservatives are more concerned about faith and upholding traditional values. On the other side, there are the progressive middle classes and city dwellers who are more interested in political freedoms, the nuclear deal, and human rights. Two issues that cross divides, however, are corruption and the economy

The economy is emerging as a key battleground for the six presidential candidates. There is high unemployment despite the IMF reporting growth of 6.6%. This is in large part due to vastly increased oil revenues in the wake of lifted sanctions. Indeed, these sanctions are a contentious point for many Iranians. Not many have felt any economic impact. Candidates have pledged vast job creating schemes and the introduction of unemployment benefits in an attempt to woo poorer voters.

Corruption is to a large degree an extension of the economic issues. The mismanagement of the economy and its poor structural make-up have dogged this election. Some candidates have not helped this issue by announcing job-creation policies without explaining how they will afford any government investment.

Who is running for election?

  • Hassan Rouhani – the incumbent president running for a second term in office. Following his election in 2013, there have been some significant developments during his time in office. The ending of the ten-year sanctions following the successful negotiation of Iran’s nuclear program. His biggest challenge, however, is the lack of impact that this has had on ordinary voters – and the economy in particular. Despite losing some support, voters may decide to give him their votes due to a lack of another moderate candidate, especially among female voters.
  • Ebrahim Raisi – He is expected to be the main challenge to Hassan Rouhani. He is well supported, especially among hardliners. Raisi has a checkered past, although not much is known about him. He has close ties to the revolutionary guard and sat on the “death commissions” in 1988. He is not the preferred candidate for the wider international community, being criticized heavily on social media abroad. His appointment to the head of holiest Shia shrine in the city of Mashhad led many to believe that he was being groomed as a successor to Ali Khamenei as supreme leader.
  • Mostafa Mirsalim – An extremely conservative candidate whom some of the traditionalists are likely to support. Experts do not expect him to get far in this election as he has little support amongst moderates.
  • Mostafa Hashemitaba – Not seen as a front-runner. He was a presidential candidate in 2001 but only received 28,000 votes in total (0.001%)
  • Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf – Withdrew on 15.05.2017
  • Eshaq Jahangirl – Withdrew on 16.05.2017

Potential Impact of the Iranian Presidential Elections:

The Iranian Presidential elections have always had a significant impact both regionally and worldwide. Regionally, Iran is committed to fighting IS along its western border. Regardless of who is elected this support is unlikely to change. The impact that the continued support could have on the region, however, could be highly significant. Iran supports Al-Assad’s Syrian regime. A reformist presidency could have more influence in giving the Syrian government a small amount of international legitimacy.

The Iranian nuclear deal that was struck in 2015 is also on the cards. Should Ebrahim Raisi be elected, there is a higher likelihood of it being scrapped on both ends. A conservative presidency may withdraw from it, and similarly, an erratic Trump administration could remove the US from the deal should they dislike the outcome of the election. Despite Trump describing the deal as “the worst deal ever”, he has now renewed sanctions relief. The timing of this decision is a signal that the deal will not fail from the US side – a warning against electing a hardline conservative president.

We will keep you up to date results of the Iranian presidential elections.