Iran’s presidential candidates Mohammad-Baghet Ghalibaf (left), Saeed Jalili (center), and Masoud Pezeshkian

An Engineered Election: The Dominant and Other Narratives in Iran

Tuesday, 06/11/2024

The generally accepted master narrative about Iran's presidential election describes it as an engineered election with a pre-determined winner.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei referred to the process as “determining a president” instead of electing one. While this might have been a natural slip of the tongue, many public speakers and social media users interpret it as a Freudian slip, suggesting that it reveals his true intentions.

There are also a few key narratives under the master narrative, including Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf being the next president of Iran regardless of who the people would prefer.

Another key narrative advanced by politicians like Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the former chief of the Iranian parliament's national security committee, is that the mere presence of the hardliner former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili as a presidential candidate sends a clear message to the West: Iran is not interested in cooperating on its ambitious nuclear program, which some Western and many regional powers view as a regional and global security threat.

Another notable narrative is that the main competition in this election was initially between Jalili and Ghalibaf. However, the inclusion of a "reformist" candidate among the six approved by the Guardian Council has shifted the dynamics from a bipolar contest between the two conservatives to a triangular competition. The third contender is 'pro-reform' heart surgeon Massoud Pezeshkian, who has served multiple terms in parliament.

The master narrative doubts that any of the three—ultraconservative Jalili, neocon Ghalibaf, or pro-reform Pezeshkian—will secure half of the votes cast in the first round of the election on June 28. As a result, it is expected that two of them will face each other in a runoff election one week later, where the candidate with the most votes will become Iran's new President.

Martyrs Foundation head Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi (R), Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani

Another narrative suggests that the other three candidates—Martyrs Foundation head Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, and former Justice Minister and intelligence operative Mostafa Pourmohammadi—are not serious contenders. Instead, they are believed to be supporting Ghalibaf against Pezeshkian and Jalili. In fact, the first two played a similar role in the 2021 election, protecting the intended winner, Ebrahim Raisi, against his rivals.

Meanwhile, prominent Iranian analyst Morad Veisi said in an analysis for Iran International that Pezeshkian is playing the same part that proreform Abdolnasser Hemmati played in the 2021 election. Although he ultimately received less than the number of invalid votes, his presence gave the government the cover to pretend that ‘reformists’ were represented in that election.

It is based on these narratives that seasoned commentators in Iran, such as Abbas Abdi, have said that "If the official assumption is that Pezeshkian has no chance to be elected president and his presence is meant only to boost the turnout, I suggest to get him out of the game immediately so that the errors made in 1997 and 2013 will not be repeated. "

Abdi was referring to fact that Mohammad Khatami's landslide victory in the 1997 and Hassan Rouhani's victory in the 2013 elections against key conservative figures came as surprise for Iranian hardliners including the Supreme Leader.

Abdi added that "The current election is most likely to end in the first round," meaning that Pezeshkian may win the election if disillusioned voters put their weight behind him. In that case, Abdi said, that those who endorsed Pezeshkian's credentials will be held accountable for the consequences of their decision.

Iran's last parliamentary and presidential elections in 2020, 2021, and 2024 have witnessed dwindling turnout. Segments of voters who have lost hope in elections as a means to improve their worsening economic situation could potentially give a 'reformist' candidate the edge needed to rise to the top.

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