See our 2017 Elections Special
Many of the comments dedicated to the upcoming Iranian elections have downsized its effects on the balances of the state. It is in fact highlighted that Iran is a theocracy, albeit soothed by a variety of powers, some of which imply some elements of a parliamentary democracy: therefore, the ultimate power lies in the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Neither from these elections nor from the choice of a moderate president or otherwise may depend on political reforms or improvements as regards human rights or freedom of speech. No less interesting is the less limiting point of view of other various commentators, according to whom the victory of one candidate or the other would not be irrelevant to the balance of power.
The main candidates and their alliances
The three main candidates are Hassan Rouhani, of the moderate wing, Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Ghalibaf, both conservatives. Raisi, who is less well known, is the national general prosecutor and guardian of the Imam Reza sanctuary in Mashhad, and Ghalibaf is the former leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and current Mayor of Tehran. However, we must first question whether, in a theocratic and complex regime, our western taxonomies are the most appropriate. In the partition between moderates and conservatives, the groups of power to which the three most prominent candidates refer should perhaps be added. Since 1979, the clergy, technocrats and militants have had a different and changing influence over the power structures. At first, the alliance between the clergy and security forces was crucial. But, as early as the 1990s, the power had gone back to the technicians, limiting the influences of the Revolutionary Guards. Ahmadinejad’s years, however, reversed the situation; while, with the recent presidency of Rouhani, the technicians seem to have returned to the forefront. There is some agreement between commentators in referring Hassan Rouhani to a sort of clerical-technocratic alliance, and Raisi and Ghalibaf to a more clerical-military alliance. Raisi would have good relations with the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, which explains his appointment as guardian of the Imam Reza sanctuary, and the solid relations with the Revolutionary Guards and judiciary system, which the re-election of President Rouhani would lead to a further rationalization of the regime and the strengthening of the technicians. The victory of Ghalibaf, in this taxonomy, would instead strengthen the military and imply a greater involvement of the Revolutionary Guards.
The ultimate power is that of Ayatollah
However, the fact remains that the Iranian presidents do not have the ultimate power, which falls within the prerogatives of the supreme leader. Therefore, the May elections will not only decide on the power group that will increase its influence, but they could also be important for the appointment of the next supreme leader. According to the Iranian constitution, in the event of death of the supreme leader, the president is one of the three figures of the council who will take on his tasks until the new appointment by an assembly of experts. The temporary leading council could therefore remain in office for a long time. Therefore, if the news is true that Ayatollah Khamenei, seventy-seven, is not in good health, the appointment to president of one or the other of the three candidates would have a major influence over the events. According to most commentators, making the electors decide for one candidate or the other would be the hope of an improved standard of living. It is also still debatable whether the benefits of Rouhani’s policy have reached the majority of Iranians. Ghalibaf, a perennial candidate in the presidential elections certainly remains the most well-known conservative candidate; Raisi, however, due to his personal history in the Islamic Revolution appears to be the most controversial and may especially appear to be the least suitable to manage such economic improvement of the nation, which is crucial for many voters. Ghalibaf, in the polls so far, is viewed most favorably among the candidates by the polled voters, half of which do not even manage to identify Raisi. The complexity of the Iranian theocratic structure further complicates the forecasts.