Analysis Of Iran’s Presidential Elections

Developing Just Leadership

Waseem Shehzad

Dhu al-Hijjah 24, 1445 2024-07-01

News & Analysis

by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 54, No. 5, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1445)

Image Source - courtesy

With no outright winner in Iran’s June 28 presidential election, a second round of elections will be held on July 5. No candidate won the mandatory 50% of the votes cast. The front-runner was former health minister Dr Masoud Pezeshkian, followed by former nuclear negotiator, Dr Saeed Jalili. The latter is also the Rahbar’s representative on the National Security Council.

The two leading candidates secured 10,415,991 votes (42.45%) and 9,473,298 (38.61%) respectively out of total votes of 24,535,185 cast. Two other candidates—Majlis (Parliament) speaker, Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf got 13.78% while trailing far behind was former justice minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi at 0.84%.

Initially, there were six contenders but two dropped out of the race. The Head of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi (also spelled Ghazizadeh) and Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani dropped out of the race on June 26 and 27 respectively. Both realized that their chances of winning were slim.

Formal campaigning started on June 11. Each candidate put forward his plan for how his administration would address the challenges facing Iran. These include the illegal US-western sanctions, high inflation, subsidies on essential items, and corruption.

Political rallies in Iran are relatively low key. Candidates do not spend huge sums of money bussing in crowds. Astronomical sums are also not spent on advertising, selling a candidate like a laundry detergent. Such gimmicks are part of western political campaigning and culture in which each candidate presents himself as all things to all people.

Let us consider some examples of western countries that present themselves as being democracies. Britain will have general elections on July 4. With rapidly falling living standards, the economy is naturally a major concern for people.

The issue of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza is not far behind. While a clear majority of the British public favours an end to the war, the leading political parties are out-zionizing their opponents. The only exceptions are the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

Across the pond in the US, the self-declared most powerful democracy in the world, candidates of only two parties are allowed to participate in televised debates. Other candidates, whether running as independent or on the Green Party ticket, are excluded.

The two main parties—Democrats and Republicans—are beholden to the moneyed class, primarily Jewish billionaires. Haim Saban (“I am a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel”) and the late Sheldon Adelson immediately come to mind. Not surprisingly, Greg Palast famously said, “America has the best democracy money can buy”!

The world witnessed the clownish performance of two octogenarians (combined age 159 years!) in a CNN-organized debate on July 27. One, the incumbent Joe Biden was largely incoherent; the other, former president Donald Trump, a convicted felon—yes you read that correctly—was in denial about every illegal act he had performed.

Trump even refused to say clearly whether he would accept the result of the 2024 presidential election if he lost. He had rejected the 2020 election result and unleashed a mob of his supporters on Congress.

Compare that to how political campaigning takes place in Iran. There are no political parties. True, there are different political trends that compete for influence and a chance to govern. People get a clear view of what each candidate stands for.

Candidates representing different political trends participate in televised debates in which each candidate presents his program on burning issues. There were five televised debates.

It is interesting to note that each candidate said he would continue the legacy of the late president Raeisi. Differences, however, emerged in their approach to the illegal US sanctions and negotiations over the nuclear issue.

Pezeshkian, seen as inclined to continue to engage western regimes in what he called “constructive relations” to “get Iran out of its isolation”, said he would work to have the US sanctions lifted. Obviously, this would involve negotiations with the US.

What he would offer to the US in return was not spelled out nor whether the US can be trusted. During the Hassan Rouhani administration, Iran engaged in intense diplomacy with the P5+1 group of countries and signed the JCPOA. US-European duplicity soon became apparent.

Qalibaf, who was the leading candidate in the presidential race according to a June 13 poll and since then superseded by Jalili (June 22), said he was open to negotiations over the nuclear issue to end sanctions. Closer to election date, Pezeshkian caught up with the front-runners and edged out on election day.

Saeed Jalili, the former nuclear negotiator, opposes negotiations with the US and western powers. He sees western rulers as dishonest who cannot be trusted to uphold any agreement they sign.

This was evident from the manner in which the JCPOA was violated by the US. Trump walked away from it in May 2018. Western regimes—Britain, France and Germany—that were signatory to the deal, did nothing to compensate Iran for US violations. There is no evidence that the collective west has changed its position in the intervening years.

Speaking in the second debate on June 20, Jalili said: “The idea of delaying for four or five years again and saying until such and such issue is resolved, other issues won’t be resolved, is a mistaken experience.” This was a reference to those suggesting that economic progress can only be made if US-led sanctions are removed.

He believes in the resistance economy and said that Iran has enough talent and the global situation presents opportunities that should be utilized.

More than 61 million people were eligible to vote. There were 58,640 polling stations across the country, mostly in schools and mosques. The heavy turnout necessitated extending voting hours till midnight. The Interior Ministry had to close polling at that time to give election officials the opportunity to start counting votes.

The June 28 election was necessitated by the tragic death in a helicopter crash of President Ibrahim Raeisi on May 19. Seven other people on board the craft with him also died. They included Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, East Azerbaijan Governor Malek Rehmati, Friday prayer leader of Tabriz, Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem, chief of the president’s security guard and three crew members.

In the second round, people have a clear choice between the two candidates. Pezeshkian is seen as belonging to the “reformist” camp while Jalili represents the “principlist” camp. It is also referred to as the “Revolutionary Front”.

It will be interesting to see how supporters of the two candidates who lost—Qalibaf and Pourmohammadi—in the first round will vote. Theoretically, Qalibaf’s supporters should back Jalili because the two had similar views on most issues, but that may not necessarily turn out to be the case.

There is little doubt that Pezeshkian made major gains during the 16-day election campaign. From third place in the initial poll published on June 13, he garnered the largest number of votes on election day. Will he be able to continue the momentum or he has reached his peak?

July 5 will tell which way the public mood is going.

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