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Politics: 2017 Election

State television declared President Hassan Rouhani the winner of the presidential vote 20 May 2017, easily beating out his closest opponent, hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi. With nearly all the votes counted, Rouhani won 57 percent of the votes among the four candidates.

"Khamenei's failure to manipulate the election result to bring Raisi out of the ballot box and make the regime monolithic is a heavy blow for him and a sign of the regime's approaching demise," Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran said.

Iran simultaneously held the 12th presidential election and the 5th City and Village Councils Elections on 19 May 2017. The Osul-Garayan, or principlists -- is a faction of hard-core conservatives dedicated to the ideals and values espoused by the father of the Islamic Revolution -- Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The principlists dominate the central organs of the Iranian body politic; if such a thing as a "deep state" exists within the Islamic Republic, they are it. Participation is key for the success of a presidential election in an elective autocracy because it gives the people the illusion that they can shape events (even if the reality is not quite so simple).

The Ministry of Interior and the Central Oversight Committee of the Guardians Council vet candidates for the presidency, parliament, and Assembly of Experts. The pre-approval phase was time for shaping the electoral agenda. Iran's Guardian Council started the process of auditing the credentials of the nominees, who have registered to run in the forthcoming 12th presidential election, the body's spokesman said 16 April 2017. "According to the Constitution, the Guardian Council has a five-day [deadline] to examine the qualifications of the hopefuls and announce [the results]," Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said.

At the end of the fifth and final day of the registration process, the head of the Interior Ministry's Election Office, Ali Asghar Ahmadi, said a total of 1,636 individuals, including 137 women, had registered to run in the upcoming presidential election. Campaigning for the presidential election will begin two weeks before the vote.

The final list of the candidates eligible to run for Iran's 12th round of presidential election is expected to be announced by the Interior Ministry on April 26–27. Electoral campaigns will officially begin on April 28 and would continue until May 17. A number of high-profile figures registered for the 12th presidential election.
  1. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former two-time president; a member of the Expediency Council; and a former Tehran mayor. He left office in 2013 amid rumors of a falling-out with Khamenei and with the opposition still simmering over mass arrests and violence in a crackdown following protests over alleged irregularities in Ahmadinejad's reelection in 2009. Ahmadinejad had fallen from favor with the clerical establishment, lost his role as a mouthpiece for fiery hard-line rhetoric, and retreated into obscurity. He was not expected to enter frontline politics again.
  2. Hamid Baghaei, the former head of Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization in Ahmadinejad's first presidential term; the ex-caretaker of the Presidential Office; and a former vice president for Ahmadinejad. Baghaei was sent to prison in 2015 on unnamed charges (and likely as a signal to Ahmadinejad, whose presidency has been painted as corrupt by his adversaries).
  3. Mohsen Gharavian, a teacher at the center of seminary studies in the holy city of Qom
  4. Seyyed Mohammad Gharazi, a former member of the Parliament; a former oil minister under Bahonar and Mousavi; a former minister of post, telegraph and telephone under Mousavi and Hashemi Rafsanjani; and a former member of the 1st Tehran City Council
  5. Seyyed Mostafa Hashemitaba, former minister of heavy industries under ex-prime minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar; a former minister of industry under former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi; the former head of the Sports Organization and a former vice president in Rinafsanjani's second presidential term and Khatami's first term; and a member of the 1st Tehran City Council
  6. Mehdi Kalhor, a former media adviser to Ahmadinejad; and a former adviser to the ex-president of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB)
  7. Mostafa Kavakebian, a member of the Parliament; and the head of Mardomsalari Party
  8. Seyyed Mostafa Mir-Salim, a member of the Expediency Council; a former caretaker of the Presidential Office; a senior aide to former President Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, an ex-minister of culture and Islamic guidance under ex-President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and the head of the central committee of the Islamic Coalition Party
  9. Hassan Norouzi, a former member of the Parliament
  10. Hojjatoleslam Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi, the current custodian of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (PBUH) in the city of Mashhad; a member of the Expediency Council; a member of 4th and 5th rounds of the Assembly of Experts; Tehran's former prosecutor; an ex-head of Iran's General Inspection Organization; a former deputy at Iran's Judiciary, a former top prosecutor of the country; and the former chairman of the IRIB Supervisory Council. Raisi, 56, a professor of Islamic law, is viewed as incumbent President Hassan Rohani's main rival for the presidency. Raisi is expected to draw support from Iran's hard-line factions, including the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
  11. Hojjatoleslam Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent; a member of the Expediency Council; a member of the 3rd and 5th rounds of the Assembly of Experts; a former member of the Parliament; the ex-secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) under Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami; and the ex-head of the Center for Strategic Studies at the SNSC
  12. Alireza Zakani, the director of jahannews website; a former member of the Parliament; the secretary general of the Society of the Pathseekers of the Islamic Revolution; and a former head of Iran's Students Basij Organization
  13. Masoud Zaribafan, a former chairman of Iran's Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs; a former vice president under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the latter's second four-year term; and a former member of the 2nd Tehran City Council

While Rohani has won praise for his groundbreaking nuclear deal with world powers last year, the pact's failure so far to stimulate strong economic growth and discontent due to high unemployment has created an opening for his opponents.

A total of 1,636 people registered for the election, including 137 women. The council has not allowed women to run in the past. Traditionally, about six candidates are finally approved to run. The council routinely disqualifies those it regards as a threat to the clerical establishment.

The country’s 12-member Guardian Council vetted and approved six candidates to compete in the 19 May 19 presidential vote, most notably the relatively moderate incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, and prominent conservative Ebrahim Raisi, appointed in 2016 as custodian of one of Iran’s holiest shrines by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  1. President Hassan Rouhani maintained his alliance of moderates and reformists, stabilising the economy and signing a landmark nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions and promised a fresh start with the international community. But conservatives argue that Rouhani, a 68-year-old cleric, has been duped by the West, a charge bolstered by fresh sanctions coming from Washington under Donald Trump. Rouhani says much has improved and more time will allow him to produce an economic turnaround.
  2. Ebrahim Raisi, a 56-year-old hardline judge and cleric, is a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With little political experience, Raisi has spent decades in powerful judicial and backroom positions, including as Iran's prosecutor-general. He is also being considered as the possible future supreme leader. While presidency can be a stepping-stone to reach the top, losing an election could be a deterrent. He presentd himself as a humble servant of the poor at a time of crippling economy.
  3. Eshaq Jahangiri, Rouhani's first vice-president and confidante, was a surprise entry. It is assumed he is running to back up Rouhani in the pre-election debates. During his registration, he said he stood "side-by-side" with the president. However, some say the 60-year-old reformist could be trying to raise his profile ahead of the 2021 elections.
  4. Mostafa Mirsalim, a former engineer and national police chief, the 71-year-old is a member of the Islamic Coalition Party, one of the oldest conservative factions. Mirsalim was the minister of culture in the 1990s, known for increasing censorship, banning Western films, music and shutting down opposition newspapers.
  5. Mostafa Hashemitaba, 71, had a mixed political record. He was a member of the pro-reform Construction Party and voiced his support for the closure of newspapers and clampdown on dissidents in the early 2000s. He had served in several capacities, first as industry minister in the early 1980s and later as a vice-president. He was head of Iran's National Olympic Committee in the early 2000s.
  6. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the 55-year-old Tehran mayor, registered at the last minute for his third run at the presidency. A war veteran, former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief, he is a staunch conservative. He was runner-up to Rouhani last time, and lost elections after claims of beating students during the 1999 protests. Even though he has powerful backing and experience, some say his campaign will be damaged by an ongoing real estate scandal in his municipality. He vowed to create five million jobs and double Iran's revenues – a promise ridiculed as “wildly unrealistic” by opponents.

The Guardian Council disqualified former hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad from running in next month's presidential election. Although Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had previously urged him not to run, Ahmadinejad shocked the country by registering.

The re-election of President Rouhani would lead to continued normalisation and rationalisation of the regime and a strengthening of the technocrats. The victory of Raisi might instead strengthen the radical clergy and the Revolutionary Guard and lead to the radicalisation of the administration and narrowing of the political space. Ghalibaf's victory would strengthen the security/military-technocrat alliance and probably increase the involvement of the IRGC in politics.

Among the presidential candidates, both Rouhani and Raisi were members of the Assembly of Experts. As a result, they have more power in the selection of the next supreme leader when the time comes. Because Ayatollah Khamenei is 77 and has been reported not to be in good health, there is a possibility that the next supreme leader will be elected within the next four years. There had been speculation that Raisi could succeed Khamenei, who served two terms as president before becoming supreme leader -- the position in Iran's clerically dominated system that has the last say in political, religious, and military matters.

The standoff between Rohani's and Khamenei's allies, who criticized the nuclear deal, escalated ahead of the May 19 election. Hard-liners criticized Rohani's economic record, saying a detente with the West and nuclear concessions had yet to yield economic benefits for Iran. Rohani on 30 April 2017 called the nuclear deal a "national achievement." "We should make use of its advantages. But some have started a fight over it," he said. A day earlier, Rohani warned Iranians that a vote for his hard-line rivals could bring greater authoritarianism to the country. "Iranians will prove to the world in the May 19 election that the era of violence, extremism, and pressures in our country is over and Iran is pursuing the path of reason," he said.

Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric and close Khamenei ally, was considered Rohani’s main election rival, along with Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. Raisi joined those who have attacked Rohani over the state of the country's economy when he criticized the president on this issue during a rally in a packed Tehran stadium on 29 April 2017. "Today, 30 percent of our young people are out of jobs and unemployment is over 12 percent," Raisi said. "Does this situation have to continue? Do we have to wait for foreigners to fix our problems?" Raisi said the country was facing “an unacceptable situation because of weak management."

Mohammad Ghalibaf dropped out of the race 15 May 2017. Qalibaf made the decision to boost the chances of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, believed to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Qalibaf had already run twice unsuccessfully for president. Once was in 2005, when he was defeated by hard-liner (and mayoral predecessor) Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The second time, in 2013, he finished a distant second behind Rohani.

Ghalibaf faced a steep decline in polls across Iran following the third and final presidential debate on May 12, when Rouhani threatened to reveal wrongdoings “in 2005,” without specifying what exactly he was referring to, in the face of Ghalibaf’s continued attacks. The Tehran mayor first ran for the presidency in 2005. A former police chief and air-force commander within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qalibaf had publicly boasted of his active role in suppressing student protests in 1999 and 2003, and after the much-criticized presidential election in 2009.

Presidential candidate Es’haq Jahangiri on 16 May2017 withdrew his candidacy and endorsed incumbent President Hassan Rouhani. Jahangiri, the incumbent vice president, announced his withdrawal in a statement, saying, “Now, the campaign period is almost over and thankfully Dr. Rouhani has been able to successfully endure all cruelties and inequities directed at him.”

This first vote since the landmark nuclear deal was seen as a tight race between President Hassan Rouhani and Ebrahim Raisi. Rouhani sought to frame the election as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism". He pushed boundaries during the campaign, criticising the continued arrest of reformist leaders and activists, and calling on security agencies to not interfere in the vote. Raisi said he will stick by the nuclear deal but pointed to the continued economic slump as proof that Rouhani's diplomatic efforts had failed.

Two other candidates were also on the ballot - conservative former culture minister Mostafa Mirsalim and reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba, who previously ran for president in 2001. They were not expected to win more than a few percent of the vote.

The so-called moderates in Iran may use less bombastic slogans, but they are no less nationalistic than the conservatives. The presidential election in Iran was more likely to shape the domestic agenda rather than the foreign one, because the fundementalist vs Reformist divide that shapes Iran's election campaigns is more relevant to internal politics. When it comes to foreign policy, the Iranian president only serves as the second in command to Khamenei, who is the actual head of state and commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces.

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Page last modified: 25-05-2017 14:00:13 ZULU