Iran Election Guide

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Iran Analysis: Presidential Election --- A 4-Point Guide to the State of the Race

Ssturday's campaign speech by Hassan Rouhani, with the crowd chanting the name of detained opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi

With 11 days to go before the first-round vote in the Presidential election, three points on the main contenders and a look at the possibilities....


The first week of the campaign, after the Guardian Council approved eight candidates and disqualified others like former President Hashemi Rafsanjani on 22 May, was marked by the emergence of Saeed Jalili --- the Secretary of the National Security Council --- as a leading contender.

Jalili has had no previous elected position and was not anticipated as a front-runner; however, a well-organised, high-profile media effort --- probably weeks, if not months, in development --- elevated him. Social media effectively presented him as a military man, having lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq War and as a dedicated religious nationalist, with service in the Supreme Leader's office.

That initial advantage has not been as prominent in recent days, as other candidates finally got their own media efforts rolling and as attention turned to the first debate. Jalili, however, still appears to be in a strong position to make the run-off as one of the top two vote-getters on 14 June.


The central narrative of this process, dating from mid-December, continues: the Supreme Leader's office and other key elements of the regime have failed to put forth a "unity" candidate to win this election.

The three men on the "2+1 Committee" --- Supreme Leader senior advisor Ali Akbar Velayati, leading MP Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf --- said that, after repeated delays, they would declare a single candidate after the Guardian Council's vetting.

That has not happened. Instead, Haddad Adel said last weekend that each of the three men would continue his campaign, presumably all the way to the first-round ballot.

So far, Velayati has been hampered by a lack of charisma, Haddad Adel has failed to attract much support, and Qalibaf --- while showing more potential --- still appears to lack the endorsement of the Supreme Leader's office.

These failures have contributed to Jalili's rise as a contender but they also have opened up a new possibility --- the "moderates" and reformists, who appear to have been dealt a crippling blow with the disqualification of Rafsanjani, may have renewed hope.


When the Guardian Council blocked Rafsanjani, its approval of Hassan Rouhani --- an ally of the former President, former lead nuclear negotiator and Secretary of the National Security Council, and a senior official with the Expediency Council --- appeared to be no more than a consolation gesture.

However, after a slow start in the campaign, Rouhani has had a strong week. He surged to attention with a forceful appearance on State TV in which he challenged the economic, social, and political manoeuvres in the Islamic Republic. He has continued that rise with speeches in which he has portrayed other candidates --- including Jalili, with whom he has clashed over the nuclear issue --- as responsible for Iran's current predicament.

The greatest boost to Rouhani may have come from his fellow contenders. With the failure to agree a "unity" candidate, four men --- Qalibaf, Velayati, Haddad Adel, and Jallil --- may now split the "principlist" vote, with others like Mohsen Rezaei also draining away some ballots. That division increases Rouhani's chances of easing into the top two and thus into the final-round vote on 21 June.

That possibilty would be strengthened if Rouhani can convince reformist Mohammad Aref, who appears to have performed well in the first debate, to withdraw and support him.


Last weekend Rohani's campaign raised a possibility beyond the ballot box. As he spoke, his supporters called for a coalition with Aref and, more importantly, began to chant the name of the detained opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Some in the crowds --- and possibly members of Mousavi's campaign --- held up posters of Mousavi, held under strict house arrest with his wife, activist and academic Zahra Rahnavard, and fellow 2009 Presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi since February 2011.

The regime moved quickly against the defiance and the spectre of renewed protest --- or "sedition", in the regime's language --- with the arrest of seven members of Rohani's campaign, including the head of the youth branch.

But could this be the rise of dissent reviving the issues in the post-election mass demonstrations of summer 2009, the dissent that the regime has tried to quash ever since through violence, the detention of hundreds, intimidation, bans on political activity, and cut-off of communications?

Early in the campaign, Rohani was careful to distance himself from any "sedition" in 2009, and he did not utter Mousavi's name in his speech. However, it was evident that he was not going to stop the crowd from doing so --- and probably anticipated that they would. Certainly, his campaign was not trying to cover up the development: they put out the video (see top of entry) highlighting it.

This does not mean that tens of thousands will take to the streets before the election. It may indicate, however, that the "Green Movement" is alive, joining others in support of Rohani. Discussion of a boycott of the process has now been replaced with the possibilty that the challenge to the regime --- and its attempt to anoint the "right" President --- may be taken all the way to the final vote on 21 June.

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