Iranian Presidential Candidates: The Final Six

Founder Editor Tazeen Akhtar..

Fatima Raza- The Guardian Council in Iran cleared six candidates for the presidential elections 2017 from the 1,361 candidates that registered themselves for the presidential race. According to the Iranian constitution, the Council reserves the right to discretion regarding the reasons for cancelling or approving the bids of different candidates. By far, the most talked about disqualification was that of the headstrong former President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who registered against the advice of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei.

The religious leader had expressed his concerns about the severe polarization of the election in case of Ahmadinejad’s participation. However, polarization is still a major concern in the elections due to the identity and ‘religio-political’ affiliation of the candidates running this year. With the registration of a widely known religious figure like Ebrahim Raisi who is revered immensely in the Iranian society, as well as by the higher leadership, the schism between the religious conservatives and moderates shall widen. Raisi’s advent in politics has also dimmed Rouhani’s inevitability to some extent as the former enjoys popular support from the public, as well as the supreme leadership of the country.

To make more sense of the upcoming elections which will not only impact the domestic politics of Iran but also its regional and global standing, let us quickly glance at the ‘chosen’ ones: ​ The first presidential debate between all candidates was televised on April 28, 2017. The Iranian media intently covered the heated debate that focused mainly on issues of economy, political promises and harsh mutual criticism. Iranian presidential debates play an important in the narrative building of the masses that listen to this discourse quite keenly and judge the candidates on the basis of their preparation. Ghalibaf as a politically experienced candidate proved to be a tougher rival to Rouhani and his fellow men as compared to Raisi. His deliberations on the issues of unemployment and the sorry state of economic affairs were aimed at Rouhani, but he was engaged by Jahangiri who tackled these questions quite aptly.

Owing to all musings about the nature of Jahangiri’s participation in the elections, the presupposed notion was that his candidacy is a ploy to ensure a safety net for Rouhani. However, his quick responses and preparation increased his ratings among the general public. Another important aspect was that of Raisi’s underperformance in the debate that only reinforced the claims of his opponents about his political inexperience. He chose silence over a flamboyant display of his skills, unlike Ghalibaf who used all cards in the deck against Rouhani and his supporters. More debates are to follow, but this one made for an interesting start to an important election that tends to not only predict the national pulse of Iran, but also impact the region and the world, collectively. Iran being a significant country in a turbulent neighborhood is sure to cause reverberations through these elections. The head of the Iranian state, though not a sole decision maker, is a very important person in terms of his interaction with the outside world. Perhaps apart from the minister for foreign affairs, the president of Iran is the only individual in the Iranian establishment to have such a wide range of contact with other countries.

Therefore, the selection of a conservative candidate will not merely be the reflection of the domestic public sentiment in Iran, but it will also greatly impact the image that Rouhani had helped build during his first term. In the end, the decision seemingly rests in the hands of the Iranian public that is usually given a lot more freedom of social expression during elections than any other time of the year by the state. While most reformist and anti-state journalists have been banned until after the elections, the masses are actively using the social media as a narrative builder to further their quest for modern reformative change and economic prosperity. However, no matter how meticulously these candidates debate the complex issues of strategic and national importance, for average Iranian citizen, the most important factor is and always will be; economy. Whoever is able to guilelessly convince the masses that they can provide better financial opportunities shall bring it home.