The presidential elections in Iran, held this Friday (18), should promote not only a change in the command of the Iranian government, but also a likely shift to religious radicalism that could deepen the differences between the country and the West, as well as increase distrust in the nuclear field.
The meeting at the polls coincides with a delicate time for Iran, both internationally and internally, with popular discontent on the rise, so there are many issues at stake in the election.
Check out five key points for the Iran elections:
1. Rise of radicals
The political landscape has changed radically compared to four years ago, when the moderate Hassan Rohani was re-elected president. This time he cannot run, as he has already served two consecutive terms.
The country’s radical bloc largely dominated the 2020 parliamentary elections, which were seen as a preview of what will happen in the presidential election. In addition, reformist or moderate candidates with some possibilities were vetoed by the Council of Guardians.
Until the beginning of this week, seven candidates were still participating in the electoral race, but, as is often the case in Iran, three of them announced their withdrawal to support better-placed competitors.
Three of the four candidates vying for the presidency are hardliners, including cleric and head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered the favorite. And the only moderate left, until recently central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemati, has a less popular profile.
2. Low number of voters
According to various polls carried out by semiofficial agencies, voter turnout is expected to range from 38% to 45%, far below the standards of the Iranian theocracy, which always seeks to legitimize itself through a massive vote.
In addition, low voter turnout usually favors the country’s most radical religious bloc, as its voters support the theocratic system and consider voting as a kind of religious duty, something that does not occur among the more liberal sectors.
The discontent of the electorate of reformists or moderates after four years marked by the economic crisis and the repression of protests against the economic crisis, as well as the absence of improvements in terms of freedoms, contributed to a strengthening of the radicals.
3. Possible succession of the supreme leader
Raisi’s likely arrival to the presidency is interpreted by many political analysts as another step on his path to the position of supreme leader. It should be remembered that Ali Khamenei was also a former president.
Khamenei’s old age (82) and his delicate health have led to speculation in recent years that his succession at the helm of the Iranian theocracy must be well sustained.
Raisi was appointed head of the judiciary in 2019 by Khamenei himself, who also chose him for the previous post as trustee of the important foundation Astan Quds Razavi, which runs the mausoleum of Shiite imam Reza in the city of Mashad.
4. Relationship with the USA
Radicals are usually reluctant to engage in any interaction with the West and, above all, the United States, whom they call the “Great Satan,” while reformers are more open to negotiations.
Tension between the two countries rose significantly during Donald Trump’s tenure (2017-2021), to the brink of conflict when the US assassinated prominent Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a bombing raid, and Iran responded with an attack on a base in the United States. Iraq that housed American troops.
Trump additionally imposed tough sanctions on Iran following the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. And while Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 US elections could represent a change in Washington’s direction, any improvement in bilateral relations could be impeded with the religious radicals in power in Tehran.
5. Nuclear dispute
Biden’s willingness to return to the nuclear deal opened the door to new negotiations, which are still continuing in Vienna and for which a president like Raisi and a new, more intransigent negotiating team will be an obstacle, although the supreme leader always has the last. word in Iran.
The negotiations seek, in addition to Washington’s return to the pact, for Tehran to return to fulfilling all its commitments under the agreement it decided to violate in response to US sanctions.
This year, Iran limited inspections by the UN nuclear agency and began producing enriched uranium with a purity of 60%, close to what is needed to produce an atomic bomb, which has aroused fears and distrust among the Western powers.