Expert: Iran's election designed to maintain Raisi's hardline stance

Iran has announced the six candidates for a snap election on June 28 to replace President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash in May.
The Guardian Council, a panel of Islamic jurists, selected the candidates.
A Middle East expert says the purpose of the election seems to be to continue the Raisi administration's conservative and hardline stance.

Carefully selected

The Interior Ministry announced the list on Sunday.

Eighty people filed for candidacy. The Guardian Council approved only six after examining their qualifications, such as loyalty to the country's Islamic establishment. Most moderates and reformists seeking to run were disqualified.

The six include parliamentary speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who once belonged to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He is a hardline conservative like Raisi, whose administration was sharply at odds with Western countries.

Another hardline conservative on the list is Saeed Jalili. He was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, a body in charge of national defense and foreign affairs.

Candidacy was granted to Masoud Pezeshkian, who was deputy parliamentary speaker and health minister. He is a reformist seeking dialogue with Western powers.

But other major reformists and moderates were dropped for unknown reasons.

Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is popular among the underprivileged, is also barred from running.

Voter turnout in the previous presidential election in 2021 was 48.8 percent, the lowest since the Islamic establishment took hold in Iran in 1979. The disqualification of the reformists and moderates left many voters dissatisfied.

The Interior Ministry said electoral campaigns officially began on Sunday.

People in Tehran react

NHK asked people in the capital about their thoughts on the candidates' selection.

A man in his 50s said: "I don't approve any of the names that have been announced. Someone should come who can address the people's needs, which involve economic affairs. The prosperity of the people should be addressed as a priority. And I don't think they can manage it."

A woman in her 50s said the opinion of the people, and no one else, should set the qualification. "Our country is dealing with a crisis in terms of the economy. Many people are emigrating now due to the fact they cannot operate in their own country."

Analysis: Intentions behind candidates' selection

What does the choice of candidates by the Guardian Council suggest? We talked to Keio University professor and Middle East expert Tanaka Koichiro.

Q : What does the selection tell you?
Tanaka Koichiro : I think the Guardian Council believes that the purpose of this presidential election is to maintain the stance of the Raisi administration. On the other hand, it is very difficult to understand who is the most likely candidate this time. The selection may also prompt moderate and reformist supporters to take part in the election, in the belief they may be able to regain power.

Q : Why do you think a reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian, is on the list?
Tanaka Koichiro : If the moderate or reformist factions were completely excluded, that would lead to a decline in voter turnout. I feel like they have nominally added Pezeshkian, who served as a minister when he was in the reformist administration, to raise voters' motivation. He is not so famous nor a strong politician, even though he has been involved in politics for a long time.
If Iran were to allow a candidate whom people want, politics could move in a bit of a different direction from its policy. On the other hand, if the candidates are narrowed down in advance, the people would lose interest in the candidates and not go to vote. That would undermine the legitimacy of the system. So, there is a trade-off over whether the country's policy will be shaken or its legitimacy is shaken.

Q : What's in store for Iran's diplomacy?
Tanaka Koichiro : The entire system is trying to find a suitable person to succeed Mr. Raisi. So, it will be very difficult for the new president, regardless of where he comes from, to totally change the course that Iran has been heading toward. That means it would remain a regional power. But it has to have a say in many international issues. We see this in Gaza and elsewhere.

That would be considered a sort of a nuisance for the United States and its allies. So there would be a lot of contention, attention and disputes between Iran and the US, or with the West.

Q : Raisi was seen as the next successor to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Could any of the candidates take his place?
Tanaka Koichiro : I don't see the next president being considered a suitable candidate to be supreme leader.
I believe that the future supreme leader, which means a successor to Mr. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would arise from a different set of people.

In terms of Raisi alone, various preparations had been made over the past 10 years to suggest he was a candidate to become the supreme leader in a visible way.

But from now, there is no time to expect the next presidential candidate to do so. Among the candidates, there is no legal scholar who is especially close to religious authorities.
The nation may have had no choice but to make the supreme leader candidate separate from the ones for president.