A billboard with a picture of the presidential candidates is displayed on a street in Tehran, Iran, June 17, 2024.

Uncertainties Surround Iran's Presidential Election

Tuesday, 06/25/2024

Whether it is a football championship or a presidential election in Iran, the outcome is always uncertain. There are many ifs and buts, with analysts, pundits, and spin doctors further complicating the scene.

In the absence of accurate and unbiased polls and surveys, predicting what might happen—even in the short term—is always challenging. This lack of reliable data makes it difficult for anyone to have a clear understanding of imminent events.

A few days before the voting day in Iran's snap presidential election, it remains uncertain who will stay in the race. Four of the six candidates—Majles Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and Martyrs Foundation Chief Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi—are from the same camp. If they all remain in the competition, no one in the conservative camp is likely to win.

None of them is meaningfully more popular than others in the same camp, although Ghalibaf and Jalili are the two forerunners. The other two are so sure about their unpopularity that they do not do any campaigning, other than the free campaigning the state television offers all candidates.

Combination picture shows Iranian presidential candidates Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Alireza Zakani, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Saeed Jalili and Masoud Pezeshkian in Tehran, Iran.

Although none of the polls and surveys can be fully trusted at this time, all available figures—both genuine and fabricated—indicate that turnout will significantly impact the candidates' standings. Most suggest that a lower turnout increases the likelihood of a conservative victory, while a high turnout would favor the pro-reform candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian.

A turnout under 40 percent gives Jalili a strong chance of winning, potentially even in the first round. A 50 percent turnout puts Ghalibaf, a slightly less hardline candidate, in a better position. A 60 percent turnout would likely ensure Pezeshkian's victory in the first round, eliminating the need for a runoff election.

The reason is that over 60% of voters have shunned the ballot box in the last two elections due to deep disillusionment. The more this disillusioned majority votes, the more support relative moderates are likely to receive.

However, despite all the fuss about a consolidated conservative camp, they are badly divided. Their combination in the election, shows that it is every man for himself. Some journalists say there will be a conservative figureheads' gathering on Tuesday or Wednesday and three of the conservative candidates will withdraw in the interest of the more popular individual. No one yet knows for sure whether Jalili or Ghalibaf will remain in the race.

From the perspective of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ghalibaf is the preferable choice because, unlike Jalili, he lacks an ideological agenda and political party affiliation. Jalili's domestic and alleged foreign connections make him a suspect in Khamenei's eyes, as he leaves no room for doubts regarding his men's loyalty.

During the past days, while mudslinging against Ghalibaf has been diminishing, videos surfaced on social media in which former presidents Ebrahim Raisi and Hassan Rouhani showed Jalili in a bad light. Raisi said in his video that he offered many jobs to Jalili but he did not accept any one of them. These comments are extremely damaging as Raisi' is being treated like a saint following his death.

Rouhani on the other hand said that all members of the Supreme Council of National Security endorsed Former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's way out of the diplomatic impasse over Iran's nuclear deal with big powers, but Jalili obstructed the plan and the negotiations failed.

The two videos could have not surfaced in a worse time. Many social media figures believe that they ruined Jalili's chances and brought Ghalibaf to a position to be one of the main two contestants in the upcoming election.

Current estimates of a low turnout might prove wrong. As Qom Seminarian Mohammad Taqi Akbarzadeh has noted, if officials misinterpret the people's votes as wholehearted support for government policies and fail to implement necessary changes, the public is likely to express their opposition through street protests and rebellion.


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