Iran elections 2013: After Ahmadinejad, who will be the next president?

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As the West, Arab Gulf states, Russia and China intently watch the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 2013 presidential elections – to be held in less than two weeks on June 14 – speculations have been raised surrounding Iran’s prospective president and the current six candidates who have are running for the 2013 election.

The question asked is who will be the winning candidate to inherit the presidency for the next four years, possibly eight? Who would be the political figure to manage Iran’s domestic policies, foreign policies, nuclear program, regional ambitions, and Tehran’s stance towards Assad’s regime? And finally, what characteristics will this prospective candidate bear?

Infographic: Who will be Iran's new president? (Design by Farwa Rizwan/Al Arabiya English)
Infographic: Who will be Iran's new president? (Design by Farwa Rizwan/Al Arabiya English)

First of all, it is crucial to note that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political spectrum significantly shrunk after the Guardian Council whittled down the 686 registered presidential candidates to a mere eight, before two candidates dropped out earlier this week. More fundamentally, this political spectrum was heavily impacted when the most powerful candidates from the reformist and moderate camps were banned from running. The approved presidential candidates are carefully handpicked by the country’s Guardian Council, the members of which are appointed by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This illustrates the character of Iran’s presidential election: a closely guided circle created by the religious leaders of the country.

Secondly, it is also worth noting that scholars who study the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political structure are cognizant of that fact that Iran’s presidential elections are marked with unpredictability. The last two presidents, Muhammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are two prominent examples of this character of unpredictability, as both presidents confronted the Supreme Leader and his establishments during their presidency.

Among the other candidates, there are two that hold the greatest odds in securing the conservative vote: Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Saeed Jalili.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

This has served as a challenge to the hardliners, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and the Supreme Leader. As a result, the conservative ruling clerics became determined to remove the risk by banning the politically-undesirable candidates from the outset through their veto power and constitutionally-mandated authority of the Guardian Council members. This guarantees that the next president of Iran would possess the qualities favored by the hardliners, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and the Supreme Leader’s establishments.

The current six candidates running for election are: Saeed Jalili, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Mohammad Gharazi, Mohsen Rezaee, Hassan Rouhani, and Ali Akbar Velayati – are all loyal supporters to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader. Rouhani, a member of the Assembly of Experts since 1999 is considered a moderate, leaning towards the left of Iran’s political spectrum. However, the other candidates are firmly positioned in the hardliner’s political camp, strict followers of the Supreme Leader, reluctant to restore relations with the West – particularly with the United States and Israel – and determined to continue the country’s nuclear program.

Attracting reformist votes

Some argue that Rouhani will attract the votes which were originally going to the reformist candidates Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Mehdi Karoubi, and Mir-Hussein Mosavi, all of whom were rejected by the Guardian Council. Although Rouhani and Aref are more left-leaning than the other approved competitors, there is little chance that they would be capable of obtaining votes from various social groups, such as the Bazaris, merchant class, and the biggest social group: the young middle class (approximately 60 percent of Iran’s population is less than 30 years old). Due to the sentiment that Iran’s elections are illegitimate, especially now that their favored, reformist candidates were all banned from running, these groups are more likely to boycott the political process and not show up to the voting polls.

Among the other candidates, there are two that hold the greatest odds in securing the conservative vote: Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Saeed Jalili. These two candidates appear to be the frontrunners of Iran’s 2013 presidential elections, however, among these two forerunners, the more likely winner, as well as the more powerful, appears to be Jalili. Saeed Jalili – also known as Iran’s unyielding nuclear negotiator – is the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and a loyal protégé of the Supreme Leader.

The conservative vote will more likely be won by Jalili for several reasons. Firstly, among the other eight candidates who are approved to run for presidency, Jalili is by far the most outspoken one. Secondly, Jalili has publicly stated his political stance on significant political affairs as “détente a hundred percent”, and has strongly projected a favoring of no-compromise with the United States and West over major issues like Iran’s nuclear program and involvement in Syria’s civil war. Moreover, he shares a considerable amount of commonality with President Ahmadinejad, and lastly, has not shown any signs of challenging the rule of the Supreme Leader/

Additionally, and more significantly, a powerful coalition of conservative clerics, Revolutionary Guard commanders, traditionalists, and high-ranking Shiite Muslim clerics – such as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi – have been publicly endorsing Saeed Jalili as the next president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Moreover, the largest nationwide network of paramilitary volunteers, the Basij, also announced that they would help organize Jalili’s election campaign. It was this volunteer militia organization that was very instrumental in securing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency during the first and second round of elections.

If the odds play in favor of Saeed Jalili and he wins the presidential election, Tehran is likely to face greater regional and international isolation, economic deterioration and higher inflation due to the conservative ideological and political background of this prospective candidate.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American scholar, is an author and an award-winning scholar, Middle East expert and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. Rafizadeh is a frequent guest and political analyst on international and U.S. news shows including CNN, BBC, Foxnews, ABC, Aljazeera, France 24 English International, NBC, Russian TV, CTV, CCTV, Sky News, to name a few.

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