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The Iranian Presidential election takes place in three anchors: one unofficial and two official, leading to the vote on 14 June.
Months of maneuvering for position preceded the hopefuls’ formal declaration of their intention to stand this week.
This year, the jockeying has involved tensions between the 2+1 coalition — which has sought but so far not decided upon a “unity” candidate — and the more than 20 presidential hopefuls, including many conservatives and principlists, who have declared their aspiration to stand. By April, no less than seven different factions had emerged.
The first official anchor of the election is from 7-11 May, when presidential hopefuls formally register their names for consideration by the Guardian Council.
The Guardian Council — which consists of 12 members, six experts in Islamic law — reviews all the submissions. It rules on the suitability of candidates according to qualifications, standing under Islam, loyalty to the Islamic Republic, and suitability for office. In 2009, the Council approved only four men — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohsen Rezaei — for the June election. This powerful group of jurists and clergy are is expected to make its final decision on the list of candidates by May 23, leaving little time for campaigning.
Once the Council has made its decision, approved candidates are finally permitted to begin campaigning, with speeches and rallies across the country. In 2009, the process included televised debates for the first time.
Campaigning continues up to just before the election.
The voter turnout in the 2009 election, was over 85%, according to official but disputed figures. The regime has showed nerves about this year’s turnout, with the Supreme Leader calling on all Iranians to make the election an “epic”, to vote as a patriotic duty and to defeat the plans of the “enemy”.
Since January, the Supreme Leader’s office has unofficially been supporting the “2+1 Committee” — Ayatollah Khamenei’s senior aide Ali Akbar Velayati, leading MP and Khamenei relative Gholam Alli Haddad Adel, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer-Qalibaf — which has been tasked to find a “unity” candidate to win the election.
The Committee, however, has not yet decided on its candidate and there have been signs that it has run into difficulty. Any of the three men in the Committee could stand, but Velayati may not want to run and lacks charisma with voters, Haddad Adel may not be acceptable to “moderate” conservatives and principlists, and the Supreme Leader may well fear that Qalibaf could be too independent a President — especially after the Supreme Leader’s experience with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — for Ayatollah Khamenei.
The Committee has always said that it could name a candidate from outside its ranks, but has not given any indication so far of a suitable person. One possibility is Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of the National Security Council and Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator.
The Committee of Five — officially titled the Followers of Imam’s Line and Leadership Front — emerged in early April as the Supreme Leader’s camp was unable or not ready to name a unity candidate.
The Committee consists of five leading politicians and public figures, each of whom is considered a Presidential hopeful: Deputy Speakers of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar and Mohammad Hassan Abutorabi Fard; former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki; former Minister of Interior and current Inspector General Mostafa Pourmohammadi; and the head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Yahya Ale Es’haq.
It is possible that each of the Committee is hoping to receive a tap on the shoulder from the Supreme Leader and his camp. However, with the continuing delay in declaration of a unity candidate, it is also possible that the Committee of Five thinks it can put forth its own choice. Bahonar has said that he will not co-operate with another faction, while Pourmohammadi has been a leading critic of the Ahmadinejad Government, including accusations of corruption.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has long planned for a successor, with most of his hopes pinned on his former Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.
However, Ahmadinejad faces a difficult task. He has lost much of his political support inside the regime, amid political rivalries and tensions over economic policies. His advisors are now often called the “Deviant Current”, a label which indicates they have strayed from the principles of the Islamic Republic, and recently some opponents have claimed the President’s men are as dangerous as the “sedition” after the disputed 2009 re-election of Ahmadinejad.
Crucially, the President has lost the support of the Supreme Leader, who intervened in June 2009 to ensure Ahmadinejad “won” the election, even though Khamenei has not supported efforts to push the President out before the end of his term.
Rahim-Mashai, despite charisma and an extensive network of support, has been under sustained attack from his opponents for years. Senior clerics and political opponents have claimed that he puts “Iranian nationalism” above Islam, and he has been accused of financial improprieties. Some critics have gone as far as to accuse Rahim-Mashai of working for the US and Israel.
It is uncertain if Rahim-Mashai’s candidacy will be approved by the Guardian Council. Earlier this year, the Ahmadinejad camp appeared to be putting a Plan B in place, with the nomination of Minister of Transportation Ali Nikzad, but this possibility has receded in recent weeks.
The “hard-line” Endurance Front, led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, was established to fight Parliamentary elections in 2012. As an alternative to the main body principlists and to President Ahmadinejad’s camp, it received a great deal of attention; however, it did not perform as well in the vote as it hoped and did not emerge as a force in the Majlis.
The Front has been relatively quiet in the pre-campaign manoeuvring. It has, however, named former Minister of Health Kamran Bagheri Lankarani as its candidate.
The camp of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was in office from 1989 to 1997, has emerged as a potential “wild card” in the election.
Rafsanjani, who has remained a leading figure in Iranian politics after his departure from office and even after his defeat by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election, has suffered a series of setbacks since 2009. He has lost positions such as the head of the Assembly of Experts, he has been widely attacked by “hard-line” media, and his children have been imprisoned. However, Rafsanjani has retained influence through both informal networks and formal posts such as chair of the Expediency Council.
In March, the Rafsanjani camp appeared to be putting forward Hassan Rohani, a long-time ally of the former President and senior official in the Expediency Council. However, in recent weeks, Rafsanjani has signalled that he might run, challenging the Government in a series of appearances which have also featured indirect criticism of the Supreme Leader.
Several other leading political figures have declared their intention to stand in the election.
The most vocal so far has been Mohsen Rezaei — former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Secretary of the Expediency Council, and Presidential candidate in 2009. He has been prominent, in his speeches and through his outlet Tabnak, in attacks on the Government over economic problems and mismanagement.
The new coalition, named the Front of the Epic Makers of the Islamic Revolution (FEMIR) after the Supreme Leader’s call for Iranians to make the election a “political epic”, was formed in late April to support the possible campaign of MP Alireza Zakani, who is linked to the outlet Jahan News.
None of these presidential hopefuls, even if approved by the Guardian Council, is likely to be significant in the campaign. Rezaei, despite his leading positions, only took 1.73 per cent of the vote in 2009, at least according to the official count.
Iran’s reformists have been politically crippled since the disputed 2009 Presidential election, with leading members in prison or under threat of detention, parties banned, and communications disrupted. Curbed in Parliament for almost a decade, they were split over participation in the 2012 Parliamentary elections and won only a small fraction of the vote.
Despite much speculation, a campaign by former President Mohammad Khatami, in office from 1997 to 2005, has not emerged. Khatami’s latest statements ruled out his involvement in the election.
In Khatami’s absence, the leading reformist hopeful is Mohammad-Reza Aref, former first vice president under Khatami. Aref said on April 5 that reformists had “boosted their relations” with the Supreme Leader.
Mostafa Kavakebian, who presents himself as a leader of the faction in Parliament but who is disliked by many reformists for failing to support the challenge after the disputed 2009 Presidential election, has also declared his intention to stand.
In the current circumstances of regime pressure, neither candidate nor the reformist movement is likely to be of any significance in the race.