In Iran there is a vote, but the result has essentially already been decided. The elections will hand over Ebrahim Raisi, head of the Iranian judiciary, as the new president of the Islamic Republic. After eight years of moderate Hassan Rohani, Tehran has chosen to return to relying on an ultraconservative after the previous double mandate of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. With one difference: Raisi is much more contiguous to the Guardian Council and Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, than the more unpredictable Ahmadinejad.
Iran elections, Ahmadinejad’s candidacy rejected
It is no coincidence that Ahmadinejad’s own candidacy was rejected by the Guardian Council itself, which has the power to skim the nominations, both in 2017 and this year. And he took his revenge by going on television to criticize above all the work of the secret services, guilty of having left the protection of the Natanz nuclear power plant uncovered. In Iran it’s all a rhetorical balancing game between religious ultraconservatives and their chosen politicians. The moderate opening chosen in 2013 had come to favor Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with the United States. At the time, Tehran thought that some opening could lead to economic benefits through the elimination of at least some of the Western sanctions and increased trade with the rest of the world. This, however, did not happen.
Iran, Rohani’s moderate turn didn’t pay off. Now it’s back to an ultraconservative
The arrival of Donald Trump led to the cancellation of the agreement and a renewed climate of hostility with Washington as well as with his eternal rival Israel. Tehran has therefore returned to enriching uranium (perhaps it had never stopped) and to advance its nuclear program. The killing of General Soleimani at the beginning of January 2020, he then further raised the level of tension, convincing religious leaders that the time had come for a conservative turn since the moderate line did not bring tangible results. Indeed, in 2019 there were several protests on the street due to the economic crisis and the prices of goods, inaccessible to a large part of the population.
And here is the Rohani experiment, badly tolerated by the magic circle of Khamenei, is archived. Raisi was practically without adversaries, as the Guardian Council decided to leave several candidates out of contention, including the most insidious rival, Ali Larijani. Others have withdrawn on their own, starting with the only true reformist member admitted to the consultation, Mohsen Mehralizadeh. Two other ultraconservatives, Alireza Zakani and Said Jalili, have chosen to take sides in favor of Raisi.
Elections Iran, Khamenei calls for mass turnout against US delegitimization
In the race remain the conservative parliamentarian Amirhossei Qazizadeh Hashemi, the veteran Mohsen Rezai, former commander of the Pasdaran and the fourth electoral attempt, and the former governor of the central bank, Abdolnaser Hemmati, supported by reformists and moderates. The polls give Raisi 64%, a percentage that would allow him to win already in the first round, and therefore the focus shifts to the turnout figures. Khamenei has called for a “mass” vote to resist the enemies, given that the rhetoric is that the United States is trying to boycott the vote and de-legitimize it, creating a “rift between people and system”.
Iran, that’s who Raisi is: head of the judiciary and very loyal to Khamenei
But who is Raisi? He is considered the apprentice of the supreme guide Khamenei, even if his presence on the Iranian political scene has almost always been considered not very charismatic. Perhaps just what the real leaders needed, while Raisi presented himself in the election campaign as a “independent candidate” which is not part of the classic logic of the alignments. Raisi, already defeated by Raisi in 2017 despite winning about 15 million votes, has always focused on an image of modesty and frugality.
Raisi president favors the son of Khamenei for the succession to the supreme leadership
On an ideological level, Raisi is considered very close to Khamenei, so much so that he was considered one of the possible successors of the supreme guide, at an advanced age and with some ailments. But his appointment as president could actually hinder him in that light, with possible advantages for Mojtaba Khamenei, second son of the Ayatollah. Also on the nuclear agreement, in 2017 Raisi made it clear that he was not particularly favorable. At the same time, he also reiterated in the election campaign that as president he will respect him.
Iran, what to expect from Biden’s new negotiations with the US
After his coronation, the phase of the new negotiations with the United States will open, actually already started in recent weeks.. The Biden administration has made it clear that it wants to return to the table with Tehran, but also hinted that it is not in a hurry. Washington knows that in an electoral climate it would be unwise to deal with a new president with an ultra-conservative mandate. State Secretary Antony Blinken he stated a few days ago that no far-reaching détente should be expected and that hundreds of sanctions will remain in place.
What changes without Netanyahu in Israel
At the same time, the exit of the scene Netanyahu Israel can foster dialogue. Right after the Iranian vote, meanwhile, the Israeli chief of staff Aviv Kochavi he meets National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin at the head of a senior military delegation in Washington. It will discuss “shared security challenges, including the Iranian nuclear threat, the efforts of Tehran to settle militarily in the Middle East region, the rearmament of Hezbollah, the consequences of the threat posed by guided precision missiles”, the office of Kochavi. In short, a signal that negotiations with Iran will restart, but they will be anything but simple.