Iranian presidential elections 2013: the essential guide

Countdown has started for an election that marks the end of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s turbulent time in office. Here is all you need to know on why this year’s presidential vote, the first since the disputed election in 2009, matters


Why is this election so important?

The vote on 14 June will be the first presidential election since 2009, when protests against the official results caused an uprising by the pro-democracy Green movement. This was followed by months of unrest and a harsh crackdown on demonstrators, journalists and political activists. Similar protests are not expected this time, but the election is taking place in a crucial period for Iran as concern over its nuclear programme escalates, sparking western sanctions and threats of a military strike by Israel, alongside ongoing instability in the Middle East.


Why is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not standing for reelection?

Under Iranian law, the president is limited to two consecutive terms. The vote in June will mark an end to Ahmadinejad’s eight years in office. After the Islamic revolution in 1979, when the then supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, came to power, Iran had both president and prime minister for about 10 years. According to the 1979 constitution, the supreme leader is considered as the head of state and the president is the head of government.

Abulhassan Banisadr, Iran’s first post-revolution president, was elected in January 1980 but later impeached by the parliament and exiled for allegedly attempting to undermine clerical power. After Banisadr, Mohammad-Ali Rajai was elected president but he and his prime minister were assassinated soon afterwards. In October 1981, the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was elected as the president, serving two terms. Iran abolished the position of prime minister in 1989.

After Khomeini’s death in 1989, Khamenei was appointed by the council of experts as the supreme leader. Since he took power Iran has had three presidents all serving two consecutive terms: the moderate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the reformist Mohammad Khatami and the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


Who can stand in the election?

Almost any adult of Iranian origin and with Iranian nationality can take his or her identity card, a few passport-sized photos and the necessary documents to the interior ministry in Tehran’s Fatemi Street to register as a candidate. But not everyone is allowed to actually take part.

The Guardian Council, a powerful group of six clergymen and six jurists, vets each candidacy. Apart from the usual requirements, such as having a good personal record, political competence and loyalty to the fundamental principles of the Islamic republic and its religion are the main issues considered by the council during this process.

In 2009, for example, out of 476 registered nominees only four candidates were allowed to stand in the election and many former officials were disqualified. This year, the official registration started on 7 May and finished on 11 May. The Guardian Council is expected to announce the final list of candidates by 23 May, which is expected to be short.


How does voting work?

There will be a three-week campaign period after the candidates are announced on 23 May, before the election on 14 June. The voting age in Iran is 18. If a simple majority is not achieved in the first round, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a runoff. Elections are held and results announced under the supervision of an administrative council in the interior ministry.


Who is running and what are the main parties in the election?

More than 680 candidates, including at least a dozen women, have signed up to run in this year’s presidential election but only around a dozen are considered as leading contenders. Politicians from the country’s major rival camps have entered the race and the battle will be between conservative “principlists”, reformists, independents and government affiliates who are known as members of the “deviant movement”.

Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad’s close ally, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, have both registered. Rafsanjani is likely to win the support of the country’s reformers. Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, who is seen as the supreme leader’s favourite candidate, is also standing.

Other figures who have put their names forward include Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, a conservative, who has formed a coalition with two politicians with similar allegiances, the former parliamentary speaker Gholamali Haddadadel and Khamenei’s top adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati.

Mohsen Rezaee, a former commander in the Revolutionary Guards, is also running. These politicians, however, are not officially candidates until the Guardian Council confirms their candidacy.


What happened to the Green movement?

The movement was largely silenced in the state crackdown of 2009. Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the leaders of the Green movement who participated in that election, are still under house arrest. In the eyes of many opposition activists, this year’s vote will have little legitimacy, given the house arrests, and restrictions on human rights and political campaigning. Even so, reformists who allied with the Green movement have not announced any active plans for a boycott and reformist nominees have also registered. Rafsanjani is considered to be the reformist’s favourite candidate. In the absence of its leaders, the Green movement has so far failed to unite and announce any strategy for this year’s vote.

Four years on, hundreds of activists are still in jail, some serving lengthy sentences. Dozens of journalists are also behind bars in Iran which is among the media restrictive countries in the world, according to the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists.


What will Ahmadinejad do after the election?

Depending on who wins the election, Ahmadinejad’s future may vary. If the new president is an ally, which many analysts believe is unlikely, he will retain some backroom power and may fight to preserve his dwindling influence in a suspected Putin/Medvedev-style power grab. If a conservative contender close to Khamenei wins, it is likely that Ahmadinejad will be sidelined.

Khamenei was Ahmadinejad’s patron until two years ago when a high-level rift emerged between them over Mashaei. Pro-Khamenei conservatives say Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and close ally is seeking to undermine the supremacy of the leader by advocating nationalism and putting Iran ahead of Islam. Ahmadinejad’s unwavering support for Mashaei, who is accused of running a “deviant current”, has cost him a great deal of influence over Iranian politics and has put him at adds with Khamenei.


With the supreme leader in power, why does a new president matter?

It is true that Khamenei has the ultimate power and the final word in all state matters in Iran but, as previous experiences have shown, a new president can significantly change the trajectory of the country.

As the presidency of the reformist Khatami showed, Iran can be quite different under different presidents despite the same supreme leader. Under Ahmadinejad, a mercurial figure who often issues inflammatory statements, the country has become increasingly isolated internationally, with its image significantly damaged. Under Khatami, however, Iran showed more commitment to its international obligations and had better relations with the west. During his time, Iran agreed to halt its uranium enrichment activities and give UN inspectors full access to its nuclear sites.

For many Iranians, elections are pointless because all candidates are vetted by the Guardian Council, which is closely allied with the supreme leader. A number of Facebook pages have been set up this year calling on serious Iranian politicians to run for presidency. Among these pages are some satirical campaigns, including one calling on Khamenei himself to run for presidency, claiming no one is closer to him than himself, and that it would be better to have him both as supreme leader and president.


What about the nuclear programme?

Under Ahmadinejad, Iran’s nuclear activities have faced unprecedented international scrutiny. The US and the EU have imposed a series of financial punitive measures against Tehran in the past two years, the toughest since the 1979 Islamic revolution, over suspicions that the programme has military ambitions. Iran says it is merely for peaceful purposes, but has not fully complied with its international obligations and has continued to enrich uranium despite six UN security council resolutions calling a halt. Iran’s nuclear policy is mainly decided by Khamenei and his powerful Revolutionary Guards but a new president, as Khatami’s presidency showed, can have significant influence in easing tensions with the west.


Are sanctions having an effect?

The US and EU embargos on Iranian oil has cost Tehran billions of dollars. Also, Iranian financial institutions are cut off from the world’s banking system and those continuing to deal with Iranian banks are threatened with punishment. The recent hardship is believed to be the worst the country’s financial crisis since the Iran-Iraq war as the Iranian currency, the rial, was sent into a tailspin last year and prices of staple goods soared rapidly. Sanctions have also had unintentional consequences such as serious shortage of life-saving medicines in the country with hundreds of thousands of Iranians at risk.


What to say at a dinner party

“It’s very much a battle between the principlists and the deviants but whatever happens, Khamenei will still be pulling the strings.” But remember not to say: Won’t the ayatollah win?

By The Guardian


The Iran Project is not responsible for the content of quoted articles.