The current Iranian election is another example of the control that Khamenei wields over Iran, even though he might not be seen as visibly making the decisions. The election is another carefully choreographed show, onek that ends with the individual that Khamenei chooses to take on the executive office as president.
While many individuals in the international community would argue that the election will define the direction of Iran’s engagement with the international community, particularly the West, others recognize that the final decision doesn’t lie with the Iranian people, but instead lies with the Supreme Leader. He must approve the vote and the give the election winner permission to assume office.
Currently, President Hassan Rouhani faces strong competition from Raisi, who is calling for a much tougher line with the West. Both factions are trying to define the direction of the regime going forward and want to insure its survival. But how that strategy looks will depend on who wins the ear of Khamenei and who he is willing to support.
While Rouhani tried to frame the election as a chose between greater civil liberties and “extremism”, his presidency is full of examples of continued repression of the Iranian people and the steady number of executions that have been committed. Despite international voices of concern about the execution numbers and legal process of the Iranian regime, Rouhani has made no efforts to change the current policies. Even the execution of juveniles is still legal in Iran, despite international law that forbids it.
Additionally, the nuclear deal has played a prominent role in the election, as it impacted the other critical issues of poverty and unemployment. Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear agreement was put into effect, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited. The result is a high unemployment rate, which is even higher for the young. Many more are under-employed or struggling to get by.
This has been an area of attack by Rouhani’s opponents, as they argued that the economy’s lack of a rebound is evidence that his diplomatic efforts have had little impact. Raisi has attempted to gain support by promising more financial support to the poor and the working class.
Both of the front runners are looking to gain the support of the people, but only to assist them in gaining the support of the Supreme Leader. Without that, neither candidate will be able to do anything, regardless of how the Iranian people voted.