The unpredictable finish line of Iran’s presidential race

May 14, The Iran Project – Less than one week to Iran’s upcoming presidential election, the result of vote remains unpredictable. The 12th presidential election after the 1979 Islamic Revolution is set to be held on May 19th. Yet the results of this round of election are as difficult to predict as the previous rounds in the country that took the world as well as the nation by surprise.  

In 1997 presidential election, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the then speaker of the Iranian parliament who appeared to have the support of the establishment, lost to Mohammad Khatami against all odds. In a turnout of almost 80 percent, he only received 25 percent of the votes while his rival obtained nearly 70 percent of the ballots, winning the election in a landslide. Eight years later, the less known mayor of Tehran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated prominent candidates such as former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mostafa Moeen, one of Khatami’s cabinet members, thus becoming the 6th president of Iran. His presidency lasted for eight years as he won the 2009 election.

The 2013 presidential election also took the world by surprise when Hassan Rouhani, the then member of the Supreme National Security Council, narrowly triumphed over Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and four other candidates by securing nearly 51 percent of the votes. His victory was unpredicted as many expected the election to go to the second round since none of the candidates appeared to be able to garner the majority of votes during the first round.

Non-standard polls

Election polls in Iran have seldom been reliable as they were mostly designed based on the preferences of the organization requesting the poll, which led to unreliable and incorrect results. Therefore, none of the polls predicted Ahmadinejad’s victory in 2005 presidential elections against his powerful rivals and few surveys were able to foresee Rouhani winning the election in the first round. Although several of foreign polls had predicted the increase in Rouhani’s support among Iranian people as the campaign period was drawing to an end.

Rouhani, Iran’s first one-term president?

The same problem plagues the presidential race in Iran in 2017 as well as no one seems to be able to offer a reliable forecast about the result of May 19th vote, although all Iranian presidents have served two-terms so far. However, some of them faced various difficulties during their second term including Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad. The former lost majority of his base while the latter encountered oppositions following the protests to the result of 2009 election. It seems that Rouhani is also facing many obstacles on his path towards securing the second term of his presidency. While he was considered the uncontested victor of the election until a few months ago, the candidacy of Tehran’s mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Ebrahim Raisi, a powerful conservative cleric has caused some concerns in Rouhani’s camp.

Economic problems, main challenge in election

Rouhani’s main rivals have focused their criticism on the Achilles heel of Rouhani’s government, namely economic problems in the country including stagnation, flagging productive section and remaining sanctions imposed against Tehran. However, they have not been able to produce a strategy or comprehensive plan to resolve the pressing economic issues, merely focusing their campaign on criticizing the shortcomings of the government.

One-round or two round election?

The lack of coherent strategy in the camps of Qalibaf and Raisi as well as the problems plaguing Rohuani’s cabinet has made it difficult to predict the result of Friday’s vote, though it seems that the incumbent president is facing a tough race as his rivals are aiming for a two-round election. If none of the candidates can secure a decisive victory on May 19th, a run-off will be held shortly after and Rouhani has to compete with either Qalibaf or Raisi. The looming possibility of a two-round election has increased the difficulty of predicting the results of Friday’s vote.