Iran is preparing for a presidential election. It is assumed that the clerical establishment headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will use the substantial power at its disposal to guard against a repeat of the domestic upheaval that erupted in the aftermath of the 2009 contest. Nevertheless, the next president’s power will be limited.

Perhaps its most effective weapon is the Guardian Council, an appointed body that is responsible for vetting candidates based on their fitness — both morally and ideologically — to hold office. This is an often highly subjective judgment that poses a particularly challenging hurdle for reformist candidates.

Two strong contenders have emerged within the conservative camp: Mohammed-Bagher Ghalifab, the current mayor of Tehran, and former Foreign Minister Monouchehr Mottaki, a close ally of the current speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, with whom he shares a loathing of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Several other conservatives have either announced their intention to vie for the presidency or are seen as likely to do so.

The lone reformist contender to announce his candidacy only did so on April 11. Hassan Rowhani, a cleric who served as lead nuclear negotiator in the administration of Iran’s reformist President Mohammed Khatami (1997–2005), is one of the few reformists to maintain a high-profile in the political arena following a concerted campaign to marginalize non-conservatives in the aftermath of the post-2009 election unrest.

Ayatollah Khamenei has numerous ways of ensuring that his favored candidate emerges victorious.

Rowhani could be a strong contender. But even if he is permitted to stand, the clerical establishment headed by Ayatollah Khamenei has numerous other ways of ensuring that its favored candidate emerges victorious, as was made evident in 2009.

Nevertheless, the presidential election is unlikely to affect Iran’s stance on its controversial nuclear program. As the executive, contrary to the popular impression outside of Iran, the President has limited influence over foreign policy, which will continue to be directed by Khamenei. As such, the prospects for an easing of international sanctions are unlikely to brighten in the aftermath of the vote, regardless of the outcome.


The PRS Group
About The Author The PRS Group
The PRS Group is a leading global provider of political and country risk analysis and forecasts, covering 140 countries. Based on proprietary, quantitative risk models, the firm's clientele includes financial institutions, multilateral agencies, and trans-national firms.

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