The ultra-conservative head of Iran’s judiciary, Mr Ebrahim Raisi, is likely to emerge victorious in a presidential election in the Islamic Republic on Friday (June 18). The result may have long-term implications for the country.
What’s at stake
Five candidates, including Mr Raisi, 60, are in the race, but the disqualification of a number of candidates has made the Chief Justice all but certain to win.
Mr Raisi campaigned as an anti-corruption champion of the poor, a strategy which failed when he contested the 2017 election that saw President Hassan Rouhani secure a second term.
Mr Raisi has said that he will defend freedom of expression and the fundamental rights of citizens, and has promised transparency. But critics have dismissed his promises as hollow.
The presidential election comes at a time when Iran’s economy has been battered by US sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme and the Covid-19 pandemic. A nuclear deal reached with the Obama Administration removed the sanctions on Iran in return for guarantees that Iran would not seek nuclear weapons.
The deal was scrapped by former US President Donald Trump, who succeeded Mr Barack Obama, prompting Iran to resume activities to enrich nuclear fuel.
Mr Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, however, has indicated a desire to return to the deal if Iran shutters its nuclear programme.
Pertinently, all of the Iranian presidential candidates have backed talks being held in Vienna for the US to rejoin the accord.
Why it matters
Turnout in the election is expected to be a new low amid voter fatigue over the dismal state of the economy and simmering anger at the government after widespread protests in 2017-18 and then 2019-2020 were suppressed brutally .
A low turnout has historically favoured the conservatives.
President Rouhani has already warned that poor participation could cast doubts on the “legitimacy” of the leadership.
Given that all but two of Iran’s presidents since the formation of the Islamic Republic in 1979 have won two consecutive four-year terms, it is possible that Mr Raisi will be president until 2029. Given his ultraconservative credentials, it is also likely that Iran will once again harden its position towards the West.
In addition, Mr Raisi’s rank of “hodjatoleslam” in the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy, which is one level below that of ayatollah, is of particular interest to Iran watchers.
Analysts expect that the succession of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 81, the country’s supreme leader, will be decided while the next president is in office. Ayatollah Khamenei himself was president when he was chosen to succeed Iran’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, upon his death. But while Mr Raisi is seen by many Iranian media outlets as the obvious choice to be the next supreme leader , his elevation is by no means assured.
Should no candidate win a clear majority in Friday’s poll, a runoff will be held between the top two candidates on June 25.
The country’s next president will have to execute a delicate balancing act. He will have to convince Washington that Iran is serious in not wanting to acquire nuclear weapons to convince the US to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. At the same time, he will have placate hardliners in the Iranian establishment who reject any negotiations with the United States.
A deal that lifts sanctions on the economy could be key to soothing inflamed sentiment in the country after years of economic malaise and hardship. Failure to reset the economy could trigger more unrest.
The election is also likely to have a bearing on oil markets, given that the eventual winner’s stance towards negotiations on the nuclear deal will dictate whether millions of barrels per day of Iranian oil will be added to global supplies.