Iran’s 2024 Presidential Election: What to Know

Iran’s election for its next president will take place a year early, on June 28, after President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash last month. The vote will usher the Islamic republic into new leadership amid domestic discontent, voter apathy and regional turmoil.

While the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has the final say on all state matters, the Iranian president sets domestic policy and has some influence over foreign policy.

The election gives the Iranian leadership the chance to show it can handle a disaster like the unexpected death of a president without destabilizing the country, even as it grapples with internal protests and tension with the United States and Israel.

The election also allows the leadership to remind people that while Iran is a theocracy, it also holds elections for government positions such as president, members of Parliament and councils.

That said, who is allowed to run for president is carefully controlled. And if, as expected, one of the more conservative candidates, close to the clerical leadership, wins, the government will most likely claim it as a victory for its brand of politics — despite the sharp constraints placed on the competition.

Iranian elections are not considered free or fair by most Western standards or human rights organizations. Presidential candidates are stringently vetted by the Guardian Council, a committee of 12 jurists and clerics.

For this election, the council whittled a list of 80 candidates down to six. Among the disqualified were seven women, a former president and many government officials, lawmakers and ministers.

All but one are politically conservative, and all support clerical rule. Iranian conservatives are also deeply wary of Western values and morality, while reformers favor more flexibility in prescribing social behavior and more engagement with Western countries.

Among the conservatives is Gen. Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, who is the current speaker of Parliament, a former mayor of Iran’s capital, Tehran, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and a twice unsuccessful presidential candidate. Mr. Ghalibaf, who has a reputation for being close to Mr. Khamenei, has faced allegations of corruption and ideological hypocrisy, which he denies.

The other conservatives are Alireza Zakani, the current mayor of Tehran; Saeed Jalili, the former chief nuclear negotiator and an ultraconservative; Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a cleric and former director of counterintelligence; and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, one of Mr. Raisi’s vice presidents.

In an unusual move, the conservative candidates have campaigned by publicly criticizing the government for the country’s economic woes, foreign policy mistakes and domestic turmoil in an effort to garner support from an electorate that is increasingly dissatisfied and alienated by the nation’s clerical leadership.

The sole reformist candidate is Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian, who comes from the Azeri minority ethnic group. He was trained as a cardiac surgeon and served in Parliament and as the health minister. Experts say his inclusion is most likely part of the government’s plan to increase voter turnout, which it views as a way to increase the election’s legitimacy and potentially bring the reformist party back to the polls after it boycotted parliamentary elections in March.

“They have bet, possibly wrongly, that this guy may generate a sufficient degree of interest by the disconnected public in the political process,” said Ray Takeyh, an expert on Iran and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The economy, American-led sanctions and women’s rights are among the central issues in this election, as Iranians grapple with a government that many view as inefficient and incapable of enacting meaningful change.

The sanctions, though imperfect, have squeezed the Iranian economy. To experts, economic hardship ties into other grievances, including the public perception of a dissonance between a government that preaches holiness but brutalizes women.

“Corruption is very galling among the public but seems to be more acceptable within the regime,” Mr. Takeyh said. “There is a disconnect. The public is economically hard-pressed, suffering from inflation and unemployment. These guys are driving around in their BMWs. That is not a good look for a divine republic.”

The special presidential election on June 28 falls within Iran’s constitutionally mandated 50-day period in which a new president must be elected after Mr. Raisi’s death.

Votes could be tallied by June 30, but if no candidate wins a majority, the two leading candidates will enter a runoff election, potentially extending the timeline.

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