Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been disqualified from contesting the May 2017 presidential election by the 12-member Guardian Council, which vets candidates for all major elections and also legislation passed by the parliament or Majlis. Six of the 12 members of the Guardian Council are appointed directly by the Supreme Leader of Iran, who may have had a direct say in the rejection of Ahmadinejad’s candidature.
Ahmadinejad’s candidature itself was a surprise as he had been requested by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, in late 2016 to not enter the race at all. Iran’s relations with the US hit a low under Ahmadinejad’s presidentship: rejection of his candidature is an indication that the regime doesn’t want a rerun of that era and that it wants the nuclear deal and the incumbent benefits to Iran to continue.
Ahmadinejad’s disqualification has narrowed down the presidential race to six candidates, of which the two frontrunners may be potential candidates for the Supreme Leader’s position as well.
The Conservative candidate who remains in the fray is Ebrahim Raisi, who has served as the attorney general (2014-2016) and the deputy chief justice of Iran (2004-2014). Raisi has been heading the Astan Quds Razavi Foundation since 2016–this is a bonyad or a charitable foundation with a multibillion dollar business empire. He is also one of the front-runners to be the next Supreme Leader of Iran after Ayatollah Khamenei. A victory in the election will strengthen his candidature for this post.
The other person, who could potentially be the next Supreme Leader, is the current president Hassan Rouhani. His chances are good if he wins the presidential election and if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, the nuclear deal) works, according to experts on Iran to whom Gateway House spoke.
The nuclear sanctions have been extremely damaging to Iran: the per capita income fell from $7,500 in 2010 to $5,000 in 2015. The implementation of the JCPOA coincided with over a 50% drop in oil prices, which has not helped improve the economy at the ground level. President Rouhani has invested his political capital in pushing the nuclear agreement: his position will weaken if the deal doesn’t work. (The Conservative faction in Iran wants the JCPOA to be seen as a failure–to discredit Rouhani and win the presidency–not have it scrapped it altogether.)
President Rouhani is seen as a reformist who wants to end Iran’s economic isolation and open up the nation to the world. He has also proven to be a competent economic manager–inflation was over 40% in 2013 when he was elected. It is currently at less than 10% (as per official statistics). If Rouhani wins the presidential election, that too gives him the mandate to continue on the current economic path, which is not a certainty under any other president.
Amit Bhandari is Fellow, Energy & Environment Studies, Gateway House.
Aditya Phatak is Senior Researcher at Gateway House.
Purvaja Modak is Researcher, Geoeconomic Studies and Assistant Manager, Research Office, Gateway House.
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