Within Iran, the list of candidates is now set for the May 19th election. Ahmadinejad, who was a surprise registration, has been disqualified from moving forward. The approved list includes the incumbent president and a list of five challengers who have their own unique histories within the regime’s power structure.
“In Iran, it’s not only an election, it’s also a selection,” said Clement Therme, Iran research fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Rouhani, who has been billed as a moderate, will be facing off against two specific hardliners. One is Ebrahim Raisi, who is considered a likely contender as a successor to Khamenei, but who is also one of the members of the Death Commission that participated in the mass execution of political prisoners back in 1988. The second hardliner is Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.
The Guardian Council, which is a cleric-dominated body that vets the candidates, is the panel that controls the elections and approves all laws passed by Parliament. A woman has never been allowed to run for president and anyone seen as a political dissident or a group calling for dramatic change have been denied access to the political process.
Other presidential candidates who made the cut including moderate Senior Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, former conservative culture minister Mostafa Mirsalim, and former pro-reform vice president Mostafa Hashemitaba. Former vice-president Hamid Baghaei, who was backed by Ahmadinejad, also was not approved.
“He was an unwanted guest in the election,” Tehran-based political analyst Soroush Farhadi said of Ahmadinejad’s disqualification. He also predicted that the former president will remain active throughout this political election cycle.
More than 1,600 people registered to run in the election, but the number was pared down through the approval process by the Guardian Council. Over 130 women have registered, but none has ever been allowed to stand.
The political realities of Iran mean that the president is first chosen by the Supreme Leader, then approved by the Guardian Council before the people get to make a decision. The outcome of this election will still produce a puppet leader that is second to the Supreme Leader, who remains the top-decision maker. He appoints half of the Guardian Council and the Judiciary member who appoints the other half, The Judiciary members all selected by the Supreme Leader. Khamenei’s mark is all over the choice of who will take that subordinate seat in the Iranian government.
The election campaign has been opened by the Guardian Council, although the official start is not until April 28th. Disappointment over the continued economic stagnation in the country is palpable on the streets and could open up an opportunity for conservative candidates. Unemployment remains stuck at 12%, billions of foreign investments have not materialized despite the lifting of sanctions as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement, and political prisoners have not been released as promised.
Additionally, the next Iranian president will also be facing the Trump administration, which has taken a more harden stance than previous administrations. New sanctions have been issued and more are in talks in Congress, including tougher sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Debates will not be held live, but will be pre-recorded in the run-up to the election.