Runners And Riders Jostle For Iran’s June Presidential Election
Ex-Majles Speaker Larijani reportedly launches campaign
Former parliamentary (Majles) speaker Ali Larijani has launched his campaign for Iran’s June 2021 presidential election, the conservative news website Tabnak reported on Friday [November 20]. Larijani, the site said, had recently met with reformist and moderate-conservative activists, and with members of President Hassan Rouhani’s administration. According to Tabnak, some observers in Tehran believe that the June election will boil down to competition between Larijani and the current parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.
This news would be more telling had it come from sources close to Larijani, such as Khabar Online or Mehr news agency. But Tabnak, regardless of its relative reliability, is not where Larijani’s office would break key news. The website added a question mark to its headline.
Has Khamenei ruled out Ghalibaf and Raeesi?
Tabnak also implied that Iranian politicians who hold a position based on appointment by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would not take part in the election – thereby ruling out Ebrahim Raeesi, the judiciary chief who stood unsuccessfully for president in 2017.
Earlier, hardline former lawmaker Hossein Naqavi Hosseini had said that Khamenei had advised that both Raeesi and Ghalibaf should stay in their current positions. He argued that former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was better placed to contest the presidential election.
But Etemad, the reformist daily, on Thursday questioned Hosseini’s claims on Khamenei’s role and suggested Hosseini was trying to benefit from rumors. “They have made a business out of pretending that the heads of the legislative and judiciary bodies have been told not to run for president,” Etemad wrote. But someone else who had made the claim, hardline journalist Abbas Salimi Namin, told Entekhab news website this had been “simply my own perception” rather than an instruction from Khamenei.
A busload of conservative candidates
Etemad also quoted former state television chief Ezatollah Zarghami quipping that there were “a minibus-load of conservative candidates” for the presidential election.
Not only is he right, Zarghami himself stood under the media spotlight all last year to garner attention as a presidential hopeful.
Apart from Zarghami, Jalili, Ghalibaf, and Raeesi there are at least two dozen more conservative figures the media have touted as candidates. State Auditing Organization Chief Mehrdad Bazrpash, Majles Research Center chief Alireza Zakani, Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian are also all in the minibus. Even some military figures such as Khamenei’s military adviser Hossein Dehghan have said that they are willing to run.
In late September, 15 of 18 possible candidates named by conservative website Tabnak were principlists. Given such an array of hopefuls, the elders in their camp are mulling the idea of a shortlist. Khabar Online website has explained the complicated dynamics playing out. Shortlisting has not been entirely successful in previous elections, partly because young conservatives do not pay much attention to the elders’ decisions, and also due to divisions within the camp.
The incumbent administration’s runners
Some in the media have suggested the Rouhani administration’s ideal candidate is Ali Larijani. But Larijani polled poorly (5.8 percent) in the presidential election of 2005 before topping the poll in Qom in the parliamentary election of 2008 and becoming Majlis speaker.
Rouhani won the presidential elections of 2013 and 2017 partly with support from reformists, many of whom have recently criticized his economic and foreign policies, distancing themselves from him in recent months. One candidate who might unite the pragmatic conservative and reformist camps, restoring the alliance behind Rouhani’s presidential victories, might be Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, although he has denied any interest.
The reformist camp
While the centrist Executives of Construction Party has said it has at least four possible presidential nominees, including Central Bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, the reformists are still unsure as to their plans, especially as they do not know if their candidates would be allowed to run. The Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog, disqualified nearly all reformists in the February 2020 Majles elections.
A group of left-wing clerics (Association of Combatant Clerics) have been meeting in the past two weeks to agree a strategy. In September, Ayatollah Mohammad Mousavi-Khoiniha, Secretary-General of the association, urged reformists to take part in the election “actively.”