When Iranians vote for their next president in June, they will be able to choose from a field of mostly hardline candidates who are hostile to the West and skeptical of the country’s troubled nuclear deal. The current head of the judiciary, ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, is the frontrunner in the Interior Ministry’s final list of seven candidates.
Iran’s presidential elections take place as world powers and the administration of moderate President Hassan Rouhani work to resurrect the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by former US President Donald Trump. While Raisi has been critical of the agreement, he is unlikely to scuttle talks in Vienna as long as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supports them.
With a hardline president, Iran’s executive branch will be in sync with other state institutions, such as the judiciary, parliament, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which could increase the likelihood that the nuclear deal will be restored with little political wrangling in Tehran.
The prospect of a radical conservative taking the presidency, on the other hand, spells disaster for human rights and civil society activists who have been bitterly disappointed by Rouhani’s inability to effect any significant change to the country’s strict social and cultural laws.
A vote dominated by hardliners is also expected to result in a low turnout. According to the semi-official Fars news agency, which is closely aligned with hardline factions, the latest polling data indicated that voter turnout on June 18 would be 53%, one of the lowest on record, with 72.5 percent of those planning to vote for Raisi. Fars did not provide any data or details about how the survey was conducted.
The Guardian Council, a powerful constitutional body directly appointed by Khamenei and charged with vetting elections, disqualified more than 580 people from the presidential race, including Ali Larijani, the former speaker of parliament and current adviser to the supreme leader.
Larijani, who comes from a powerful family and is well-liked in Iran’s political establishment, was seen as too close to Rouhani and likely to continue his policy of engagement with the West. Raisi, who is close to Khamenei and is frequently referred to as his most likely successor in state media reports, is liked by the Islamic Republic’s security apparatus and religious institutions but unpopular with the country’s educated, urban middle class.
When he ran against Rouhani in 2017, he lost by a large margin because he was seen as a threat to the nuclear deal his opponent had championed in an effort to revive the economy, improve ties with the US, and spur foreign direct investment into the country after decades of isolation.
Raisi will run against Saeed Jalili, former head of Iran’s top nuclear body under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Mohsen Rezaei, and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the only candidate who has served in a reformist government.
Under President Mohammad Khatami, Mehralizadeh was the deputy head of Iran’s sports organization. While he is closely associated with the Islamic Republic’s only fully pro-reform administration, he is not regarded as a powerful politician and received less than 1.5 million votes when he ran for office in 2005.