Iranian Presidential Election: A Limited Strategic Impact for Iran?

26 juin 2024
By Julia Tomasso, Research Assistant at IRIS

In the run-up to the Iranian presidential election on 28 June 2024, the political landscape is marked by major internal challenges. Against the backdrop of recent events, the parliamentary elections in March 2024, a widespread economic slump, repeated social revolts and the tense relationship with Israel. The political scene is therefore preparing for a crucial election. Nonetheless, the internal logic of Iran’s institutional framework remains fairly tightly knit, if not obscure. This article therefore sets out to clarify the hybrid nature of the electoral process and the main thrust of the programmes of the six candidates. However, it should be emphasised that the impact of elections on the country’s strategic direction remains limited. Decision-making power ultimately rests with the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, Iran’s emblematic figure.

The presidential election takes place in a tense climate

The Iranian presidential election will take place on 28 June 2024. This date has been set in accordance with Article 131 of the Iranian Constitution, which stipulates a deadline of fifty days after the death of the President. Ebrahim Raissi died on 19 May, along with his foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, in a helicopter crash near Azerbaijan. Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber is currently acting president.

The death of Ebrahim Raissi has deeply disrupted Iranian society, against a backdrop of prevailing political, economic, security and social instability. The unprecedented abstention rate in the parliamentary elections of March 2024 has once again put the ultraconservatives in control of parliament (Majles). However, this control is based on a fragile popular legitimacy, as shown by the low turnout and the high proportion of blank votes. The economic situation is critical: inflation remains at 40%, unemployment is high (8.6%) and the value of the rial continues to depreciate. The Iranian morality police continue to exercise increasing brutality towards Iranian women, imposing the strict wearing of the hijab. Moreover, relations between Iran and Israel have remained tense since the strikes on their respective territories last April. While the Iranian regime seems keen to avoid a direct conflict with Tel Aviv – aware of its fragile position in the face of growing internal tensions – Tehran is nonetheless determined to pursue its regional ambitions and maintain a posture of strategic defiance towards Israel. Finally, France, Germany and the United Kingdom recently issued a joint statement condemning the measures taken by Iran to increase its nuclear capacity at the Natanz and Fordow power stations. The presidential elections in mid-June are therefore taking place against a backdrop of growing uncertainty and critical issues at both national and international level.

The Guardian Council: a hybrid body at the heart of a two-headed system

The Iranian institutional framework is complex and unique in that two authorities coexist: a democratic authority on the one hand, and a theocratic one on the other. The country’s democratic legitimacy derives from popular suffrage, exercised in general elections to elect, among others, the President of the Republic. Theocratic legitimacy, on the other hand, is represented by the Supreme Leader, who oversees all the country’s institutions, including the Council of Guardians of the Constitution.

The Council of Guardians has twelve members, serving six-year terms. Six of the twelve clerics are appointed by the Supreme Leader; the other six are selected by members of the Majles. The Council of Guardians is essential to the electoral process, as it is responsible for validating the presidential candidates in advance, monitoring the elections and approving or rejecting the final results of the ballots, in accordance withArticle 99 of the Constitution. This prerogative gives the religious authorities the power to ensure that only candidates who conform to the Islamic principles of the regime are allowed to stand.

The influence of religious power on the process of selecting and approving presidential candidates thus reveals the dynamics of Iran’s two-headed system. This interaction between religious institutions and the electoral process highlights the duality of power in Iran, affecting democracy and political representativeness.

The challenges of early elections: political, economic and social perspectives

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, there has been a succession of « conservatives » and « reformers » at the head of the Iranian regime. 80 candidates – including four women – stood for the early elections on 28 June. Only six were endorsed by the Guardian Council.

The management of international sanctions is a central theme in the programmes of the six candidates. Alireza Zakani, the ultraconservative mayor of Tehran, favours « self-sufficiency » and advocates de-dollarisation, arguing that Iran must become independent to gain « international respect ». The conservative Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, chairman of the Majles with a background in the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Pasdaran), advocates diplomatic efforts to lift sanctions gradually. He argues that the Sino-Iranian relationship offers Iran alternative ways of developing its economy and mitigating the impact of sanctions.

Theeconomy is therefore emerging as a central theme in the candidates’ programmes, taking pride of place in their speeches and proposals. Masoud Pezeshkian, a senior parliamentarian and the only reformist candidate, highlights internal corruption and stresses the importance of complying with the global financial standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to attract foreign investment. The conservative Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former justice minister and the only cleric in the race, maintains that the 29% interest rates charged by the banks are responsible for inflation in Iran. To better control inflation, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf advocates greater independence from the central bank. He also stresses that contracts signed with foreign counterparts must be translated into tangible progress, and that greater cooperation is needed with the Shanghai Cooperation Council and the BRICS, of which Iran has been a member since January 2024.

Finally, the status of women and the wearing of the hijab were debated by all the candidates. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf advocates « gender justice » rather than gender equality, highlighting the central role of women in the family sphere. Masoud Pezeshkian is opposed to any form of coercion to impose the hijab. On the other hand, Saeed Jalili, former Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2007 and 2013, criticises Western models and highlights the success of veiled Iranian women as a powerful alternative model. The conservative Ghazizadeh Hashemi, director of the Martyrs Foundation since 2021, focuses his discourse on discrimination and inequality of opportunity rather than the hijab. He calls for reforms to better integrate women into the labour market and to combat structural discrimination.

In conclusion, recent Iranian polls predict a close contest between the conservative Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the reformist Masoud Pezeshkian and the ultraconservative Saeed Jalili. However, the impact of the presidential election on Iran’s strategic direction will remain marginal. Politically and institutionally, Tehran’s strategic trajectory is unlikely to undergo major transformations.


Translated by Deepl.
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