Iran will be holding its twelfth presidential elections this Friday. Political analysts and Middle East specialists are watching these elections very closely, but what impact will they have?
Why do Iran’s presidential elections matter?
Iran is a powerful country in the Middle East, and its stability and foreign policy affect its neighbours and have knock-on effects outside the region as well. Iran is involved in the Syria conflict, is closely tied to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has interests in countries with sizable Shia populations, such as Iraq and Yemen.
And let’s not forget Iran’s nuclear programme, which earned it pariah status internationally and crippling economic sanctions that have squeezed its economy.
Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani was able to conclude the successful P5 1 negotiations in 2015, and according to this “nuclear deal” Iran would halt work on its nuclear programme in return for a lifting of the sanctions and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in Iranian funds.
Who are the main candidates?
Right now the two strongest candidates are:
Incumbent Reformist President Rouhani, recognisable by his white turban. Rouhani is a Muslim scholar and lawyer with strong religious and revolutionary credentials, having preached against the Shah, changed his name to avoid detection by the secret services, and joined parliament after the revolution.
Rouhani was involved in secret negotiations with the US over the Iran Contra deal in the 1980s and in the P5 1 negotiations, which were successfully concluded during his presidency.
His Principlist challenger Ebrahim Raisi (recognisable by his black turban). Raisi is also a Muslim scholar and seen to be very close to the current Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Raisi was younger than Rouhani at the outset of the Iranian revolution, but he rose quickly through the ranks and has most recently worked as Iran’s prosecutor general.
Raisi has also been named custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, which is in charge of the Imam Reza shrine, the holiest shrine in Iran that controls the largest assets of any charity in the Muslim world.
Up until Monday, there were two other strong candidates in the race, Reformist First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and Principlist mayor of Tehran Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf.
The two candidates had strong showings during the televised debates and on the campaign trail, but they were seen as placeholder candidates and both had withdrawn by Tuesday evening.
Jahangiri announced his full support for Rouhani and asked all those who supported him to vote for him as well, while Ghalibaf threw his support behind Raisi and asked his supporters to do the same.