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Anatomy of the candidates in the Iranian presidential election 2021
by Alireza Mohebbi
Iran’s thirteenth presidential election will be held on June 18, as the country grapples with several complex and challenging problems at home and abroad.
There is no shortage of challenges for the incoming president to tackle. These include the COVID 19 crisis and vaccination roll out, with official figures reporting infections numbering 2,902,094 cases and 79,939 deaths by May 30th, 2021. The unprecedented nature of COVID 19 is tragedy enough, but when it’s set against a backdrop of rising livelihood dissatisfaction over high rates of unemployment, rising prices, 39 percent inflation, and the devaluation of the national currency, the demands on a new government are overwhelming. While many nations can turn to wealthier countries for support, a series of international incidents has left Iran as an outcast to much of the world. These include the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 by two missiles of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as the development of a nuclear program that has resulted in international sanctions and the US withdrawal from the IAEA. Iran’s support for Palestinian resistance groups and Shiite militias in Iraq and Yemen, as well as Iran’s military presence in Syria, have all affected foreign policy engagement with neighbouring countries. With so many life and death issues to manage, the next president’s reign will be critical for the future of Iran.
So how will this election play out and what will the role of the president be? Iran is a theocratic country with a population of about 84 million Muslims (about 98 percent) who, according to Article 113 of the country’s Constitution, holds the president as the highest official after the Supreme Leader. The president is responsible for enforcing the Constitution and chairing the executive branch, except in matters directly related to the Leadership.
The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the “Vali-ye Faqih – ولی فقیه, or ‘guardianship of the jurist,” has the highest political and religious position in Iran – a position which can annul all decisions made by the president or other institutions of power under his government.
The process for the presidential election is not wholly transparent in Iran. The election ends with the president receiving approval from Iran`s Supreme Leader, after gaining an absolute majority of the votes cast (more than 50 percent of the vote) and approval of the election results by the Guardian Council. The approval of the Iranian President by Ali Khamenei as the Vali-ye Faqih, or ‘guardianship of the jurist’ is one of the powers of the Iran`s Supreme Leader in the Constitution, and the four-year term of the presidency in Iran begins on the date of “ratification of the credentials” by the Supreme Leader.
But let’s take a look at the process leading up to the final appointment.
What is the registration process for the Iranian presidential election?
According to Article 99 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Guardian Council is responsible for overseeing the President’s election. The Guardian Council, one of the important supervisory bodies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has 12 members; six of them are Faqihs (experts in Islamic Law) who are dismissed and appointed by the Iranian Supreme Leader. The other six members are lawyers selected by the judiciary chief and nominated to the Islamic Consultative Assembly (The Parliament of Iran) for a vote of confidence. In Iran, the judiciary chief is appointed by the Supreme Leader by direct decree for a five-year term.
Controversially, according to the Guardian Council, candidates must meet the following conditions to register for this presidential election.
The candidate must:
- be between 40 and 75 years old.
- have a minimum master’s degree or equivalent approved by the Ministries of Science, Research and Technology and Health, Treatment and Medical Education, or the Seminary Management Center.
- have a four-year history of ministries, governorates, or municipalities in cities with more than two million population.
- be one of the directors of seminaries or of Islamic Azad University (private university in Iran).
- be a member of the Expediency Discernment Council or the Supreme National Security Council.
- be the deputy head of one of the three branches (executive branch, legislature, judiciary).
- be from the heads of governmental organizations, institutions, and public non-governmental institutions at the national level.
- And, if they are in the military, they should be high-ranking commanders of the armed forces with general and higher ranks.
During this period of the presidential election, 592 people registered with the Ministry of Interior, and finally, the Guardian Council approved the eligibility of seven of them as final candidates to participate in the Iranian presidential election.
Who are the final candidates?
Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi
The 50-year-old Doctor, the fundamentalist politician, is the first vice-president in the eleventh term of the Islamic Consultative Assembly. He is the youngest candidate in this period of the Iranian presidential election.
He was also a member of parliament in the eighth, ninth, and tenth terms. He is a member of the Central Council of the Sustainability Front and was its spokesman in 2013 and 2014.
The Stability Front of the Islamic Revolution, known as the Stability Front, is an Iranian fundamentalist political group made up of conservative
fundamentalist extremists. The core of this group is formed by some former ministers of the ninth and tenth governments (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet).
His long serving high ranking career in parliament positions him as a willing parrot of the Supreme Leader. This is evident through the anti-Israel rhetoric which is aimed to demonstrate that he is loyal to the regime.
Following recent tensions and clashes between Israel and Palestine, Ghazizadeh Hashemi said in a statement: “We will soon see the collapse of the Zionist regime.”
This recent statement by Ghazizadeh Hashemi as the Iran’s presidential candidate, refers to Ali Khamenei’s remarks during a challenging speech on September 9, 2015.
The 64-year-old is a moderate politician and former governor of the Central Bank of Iran.
He has a doctorate in economics. From 1980 to 1993, he was active in the Iranian state radio and television and held important positions such as the political deputy of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war (September 1980 – August 1988), he was in charge of the war propaganda staff. From 1994 to 2006, he was the General Director of the Central Insurance of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Chairman of the Supreme Insurance Council.
Before he was appointed Governor of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he headed Sina Bank (seven years) and Melli Bank (three years) for a total of ten years.
Also, during his tenure as Governor of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the US Treasury Department on October 8, 2020, sanctioned eighteen Iranian banks for supporting terrorist activities and Iran’s nuclear program.
Rising inflation and liquidity, the devaluation of the national currency, and the turmoil in the Iranian stock market are main economic problems during Hemmati’s presidency of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, leading to many criticisms of his performance which heavily impacts his chances winning this election.
The 55-year-old is a fundamentalist politician, a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, and a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader in the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
He lost his right leg during an eight-year Iran-Iraq war in a military operation.
In October 2007, he was elected Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran in the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Former Iranian President). He attended the nuclear negotiations between Iran and P5+1 group (United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France plus Germany).
A trusted figure in the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he was selected as Iran’s nuclear negotiator based on his background in Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, during Saeed Jalili’s tenure in the Iranian nuclear case, Unprecedented sanctions were imposed on Iran by the United Nations Security Council, the United States, and the European Union, which negatively affected foreign exchange earnings, oil sales, and banking sanctions.
Jalili ran in the eleventh presidential election in 2013 but failed to win, eventually coming in third with about 4.6 million votes.
He ran in that presidential election under the slogan “A Pleasant Life – Hayat Tayyeba – حیات طیبه,” which is inspired by Islamic thought, and his campaign staff included members of extremist groups such as Ansar Hezbollah (close to the Basij and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).
The 64-year-old reformist politician, vice president, and head of the Physical Education Organization was in the cabinet of Mohammad Khatami (the eighth government of the Islamic Republic of Iran) from November 2001 to September 2005.
He was previously the governor of Khorasan for four years, from 1997 to 2001.
Mohsen Mehralizadeh entered the ninth presidential election campaign in 2005 as a candidate of the reformist faction. He was initially disqualified by the Guardian Council but was re-approved on appeal by the decree of Iran`s Supreme Leader.
Mehralizadeh came in fourth in the 2005 presidential election with 1.29 million votes.
After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Mehralizadeh formed the Islamic Revolution Committees in the city of Maragheh (in the province of East Azerbaijan). The committee was responsible for enforcing Islamic rules and ethical standards of social behavior in Iran.
He also participated in forming the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Maragheh city) and held its command from 1979 to 1981.
He is currently the President of the International Zurkhaneh Sports Federation. His presence on the third day of the registration of candidates for the thirteenth presidential election on May 13, 2021, with his two grandchildren (one of whom wore the uniform of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) caught the attention of news photographers.
According to experts, his presence and confirmation in this period of the presidential election is only as an excuse to increase the turnout among voters who still believe in reform for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although he will have no place in power and has no hope of winning the election, the regime is using every means to get people to the polls, even in exchange for the approval of a second- or third-class reformist candidate.
The 60-year-old is an Islamic fundamentalist cleric and the current Chief of the judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran. His presence in the Iranian judiciary dates back to 1980.
Raisi has been a high-ranking Iranian judicial official since the 1980s, and his presence on a “four-member execution board” known as the “Death Commission” is one of the dark spots in his case.
In August and September 1988, thousands of political and ideological prisoners were tried without the presence of a lawyer and often within minutes, by order of Ruhollah Khomeini, the former Iranian Supreme Leader, and were executed en masse and secretly.
Ebrahim Raisi, as a deputy prosecutor of Tehran, was a member of the death commission that, after asking a few questions about the prisoners’ political and religious beliefs, decided whether to execute or keep them alive.
With the death of Ayatollah Khomeini and the beginning of the leadership of Ali Khamenei, Ebrahim Raisi was not only not questioned for the executions in the summer of 1988 but also continued to be promoted in the judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran and held positions such as Prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, Head of the National Inspection Organization and the first deputy head of the judiciary.
His performance in the Iranian judiciary led to the US Treasury Department’s taking action on November 4, 2019, against nine individuals close to Ali Khamenei, including Ebrahim Raisi, for human rights abuses and internal repression.
His close relationship with the Iran`s Supreme Leader and his trust in Ebrahim Raisi led to his appointment to the post of Astan Quds Razavi on March 7, 2016, with the ruling of Ali Khamenei.
Astan Quds Razavi is a religious-economic institution responsible for managing the shrine of the Eighth Shiite Imam, collecting vows, and managing the property and economic enterprises affiliated with it. This institution is one of the largest economic enterprises in Iran, which has been exempted from paying taxes by order of Ayatollah Khomeini (the First Supreme Leader of Iran).
Ebrahim Raisi ran for the twelfth presidential election in 2017 but lost the race to incumbent President Hassan Rouhani.
About a year and a half later, on March 7, 2019, Ali Khamenei appointed Ebrahim Raisi as the Chief of the Iranian judiciary. Four years after losing the previous presidential election, Ebrahim Raisi has re-emerged to try his luck again.
The Conservative-backed candidate, a close ally of the Iranian leader, has high hopes of being elected Iran’s eighth president in an election in which the Guardian Council has disqualified countless candidates.
The 66-year-old is a military commander and secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council.
In 1980, with the ruling of Ruhollah Khomeini (First Iranian Supreme Leader), he was appointed as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander and worked in this position for sixteen years until 1997.
The IRGC’s conflicts with the Islamic Republic of Iran Army and its performance in commanding various operations during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) when he was as commander of the Revolutionary Guards were widely criticized.
Mohsen Reza’i entered the world of politics after 1997 and was appointed secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council by the ruling of the Iran`s Supreme Leader. Mohsen Reza’i holds the record for running in the most presidential elections.
He ran in the ninth presidential election in 2005 but resigned before the election. He ran in the tenth and eleventh presidential elections in 2009 and 2013 and lost.
Reza’i was absent from the twelfth election but is running again in the thirteenth presidential election, seeking his presidential dream. However, it seems unlikely that he will have a chance to become president.
Mohsen Reza`i was placed on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list on January 10, 2020, following the US government’s announcement of involvement in the 1994 terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish community in Argentina, resulting in the deaths of 85 people.
Mohsen Reza`i was listed as wanted by Interpol (International Police) on March 2007 at the request of the Argentine government on charges of involvement in the explosion of the Jewish Aid Center (bombing of AMIA as the then commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).
His remarks in July 2013 on the issue of military aggression and conflict with the United States were highly controversial. Reza’i said: “If the Americans want to have a bad eye on Iran and think of a military strike, they can be sure that we will capture at least 1,000 Americans in the first week, and then they will have to pay billions of dollars to free each of them and we will solve the economic problem of the country.”
The 55-year-old fundamentalist politician represents Qom (Iran’s religious capital) in the eleventh term of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (The Parliament of Iran) and heads the Islamic Parliament Research Center of The Islamic Republic of Iran.
With the start of the Iran-Iraq War, Zakani went to the battlefields and participated in the Irregular Warfare Headquarters. He was wounded in battle.
Alireza Zakani was in charge of the Student Basij Organisation of the University of Tehran, the mosque administration of the University of Tehran (for four years), the Student Basij Organisation of the universities of Tehran province, and was in charge of the Student Basij Organisation of Iran.
The Student Basij Organisation -سازمان بسیج دانشجویی was founded based on the decree of the first Iran`s Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini on 23 November 1988. This organization is a subset of the Basij Organization (one of the paramilitary organizations and a subset of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).
Zakani represented the people of Tehran in the seventh, eighth, and ninth terms of the Islamic Consultative Assembly.
Alireza Zakani registered for the eleventh (2013) and twelfth (2017) presidential elections in Iran but was disqualified by the Guardian Council in both.
According to many critical experts, this rejection and approval of credentials in different periods is a tool of pressure done by the Guardian Council (by order of Iran`s Supreme Leader).
Some experts believe that before the election, Alireza Zakani may withdraw from the election in favour of the main representative of the Conservative Party, Ebrahim Raisi, as a close pro-government observer. If Ebrahim Raisi wins the Presidential election, Zakani will likely be elected as one of his cabinet ministers.
One of the important events of the thirteenth Iranian presidential election so far is the disqualifications of the Guardian Council regarding Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (former President of Iran from August 2005 to August 2013), Ali Larijani (Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly from 2008 to 2020) and Eshaq Jahangiri (First Vice President since 2013).
The seven qualified candidates will have 20 days from May 28 to June 16, 2021, to carry out their activities and election campaigns throughout Iran. The thirteenth presidential election in Iran will be held on Friday, June 18, 2021.
Experts believe that due to the complexities and problems in Iran’s domestic and foreign policy – including increasing public dissatisfaction with the government, severe economic and livelihood problems, the COVID 19 crisis, and the ambiguous status of Iran’s nuclear program – turnout will be at an all-time low compared to previous elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Some polls in Iran, including the Student Opinion Polling Centre (ISPA), put the current turnout at 36 percent.
During the eleventh term of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (The Parliament of Iran) on February 21, 2020, only 42.57 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, with the lowest turnout (after the second round of municipal council elections in February 2003) in the post-revolutionary history of the Islamic Revolution since 1979.
Whether some consider the Iranian election a premeditated and engineered election or others see it as a blind hope for choosing between bad and worse, on June 18, 2021, the Islamic Republic of Iran will recognize its eighth president. The President could be considered the most outward facing showcase figure of the regime which is approved by the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Republic of Iran at this time.
Schools of Arts, Social Sciences & Humanities
Swinburne University of Technology
Feature image source: Borna Ghasemi