Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei performs prayer at a funeral for victims of helicopter crash that killed Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and others, in Tehran, Iran, May 22,2024.

How Will Iran’s Watchdog ‘Engineer’ Election of Raisi’s Successor

Sunday, 05/26/2024

Iranian media are widely speculating about the Guardian Council’s strategy for setting the stage for the election of Raisi’s successor in the upcoming June 28 elections. They suggest that three scenarios are likely to unfold.

This time, the Guardian Council has very little time for the usual machinations it is often accused of, as the law requires that a president be elected within 50 days. Unlike previous elections, there are currently no pieces on the board to arrange for the desired outcome.

The significance of which past approach the Council is likely to adopt regarding diversity of candidates is more important than which particular politicians are likely to run, moderate conservative Asr-e Iran news website wrote Sunday.

Some speculate that the Council may eliminate all candidates capable of mobilizing the electorate, including certain hardliners and ultra-hardliners, to ensure the victory of their most preferred candidate.

Another possible approach, according to media analysts, is allowing various hardliner and ultra-hardliner factions to compete relatively freely, which could result in an unpredictable outcome.

The last and least likely scenario is allowing all political groups within the establishment, including some from among the spectrum of reformists, to field their candidates and to ensure a high turnout.

The five-day period of registration is to begin on May 30 after which the Guardian Council has a week to vet candidates. So far, some controversial figures such as former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, once Khamenei’s favorite who fell from his favor during his second term, have implied they are ready to run. Ahmadinejad was barred from running in the past two elections.

The dilemma facing the Khamenei-appointed jurists of the Guardian Council is how to orchestrate the election so that the "desired" future president emerges from the ballot boxes while also ensuring "maximum participation" of the electorate, or at least a level of participation that does not call the legitimacy of the next president into question.

According to official figures, only 48 percent of the electorate went to the ballots in the presidential election of 2021 in which the arrangement of candidates, which included one low-profile reformist, Abdolnaser Hemmati, was meant to guarantee Raisi’s win.

Disqualified candidates included moderate former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, reformist former Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, and Masoud Pezeshkian, a reformist lawmaker from East Azarbaijan Province who could potentially bring some reluctant voters to the ballots. Pezeshkian on Sunday again announced his candidacy.

Turnout was 73% in the 2017 election and over 72% in the 2013 election, both of which saw Hassan Rouhani winning with over 50% and 57% of the vote, respectively.

In an unprecedented move, 13 percent of eligible voters cast blank and void votes in 2021. This was higher than votes cast for the second runner up, Mohsen Rezaei, who got 11.8 percent of the vote against Raisi’s 62 percent.

Blank and void ballots were cast by those who did not find any of the four approved candidates to their liking or were coerced into voting. Lawyers, physicians and other health workers, for instance, are intimidated into voting by being threatened with loss of their licenses.

In 2017 and 2013 elections, blank and void ballots respectively made up just 2.9 and 3.39 percent of all votes. In both elections various factions within the political establishment had their own candidates.

Khamenei and the hardliners have not appeared overly concerned about voter turnout in the past three elections since 2020. Despite a consistent decline in turnout, they continue to describe each election as "epic."

Besides behind-the-scenes instructions, Khamenei has the power to overturn the Guardian Council’s decisions with so-called “state edicts”. He reinstated two reformist candidates disqualified by the Council, Mohsen Mehralizadeh and Mostafa Moeen, with such edicts in the controversial presidential elections of 2005 which brought hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. He also reinstated Pezeshkian in the 2024 parliamentary elections.

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