Two of the main contenders to become the next Iranian President, Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, registered on May 15 to run in next month’s election. The June 18 election to succeed President Hassan Rouhani is seen as a test of the legitimacy of the country’s rulers who are hoping for a high turnout. Term limits bar Rouhani from running again. But voter interest may be hit by rising discontent over an economy that has been impacted by US sanctions reimposed after the Trump Administration exited a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers three years ago.
Ebrahim Raisi is a 60-year-old mid-ranking cleric in Iran’s Shi’a Muslim establishment and is generally aligned with the radical right wing Iranian politics and was invovled in the mass execution of almost 34,000 Iranian political prisoners over the course of a two month period in 1988. Additionally, Raisi has promoted a populist economic agenda, including Import Substitution Industrialisation and generous cash subsidies for poor and working-class Iranians. Appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as head of the judiciary in March 2019, he has emerged as one of the country’s most powerful figures and a contender to succeed Ayatollah Khamenei in the future Ali Larijani, a former nuclear negotiator and an adviser to Khamenei, is hoping to secure backing from both moderates and hardliners and bridge the gap between them.
“I have come as an independent to the stage to make changes in the executive management of the country and to fight poverty, corruption, humiliation and discrimination,” Ebrahim Raisi was quoted as saying in a statement by local media before registering. “I have come to form a strong people’s government for a strong Iran” with the help of “the brave youth,” Raisi said, apparently alluding to recent comments by Khamenei who said he expected a “capable and energetic government” to come to power. Raisi previously lost to current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by a 16% margin in 2017. Reformists and rights activists say they are alarmed by Raisi’s background as a hardline judge, especially during the 1980s when he was one of four judges who imposed death penalties on thousands of political prisoners. Raisi said his government “will not lose one moment to lift the oppressive sanctions”.
In addition to Ebrahim Raisi and Ali Larijani, Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, a moderate ally of Rouhani, also registered to run. Jahangiri hopes to gain the support of moderate and reformist supporters within Iran, as well as Iranian expatriates who are eligible to vote in Iranian Presidential elections Registration of candidates ended on May 16, after which entrants will be screened for their political and Islamic qualifications by the 12-member Guardian Council vetting body, which has in the past disqualified many moderates and reformers.