Iran Election Frontrunner Is Under US Sanctions & 3 Of 4 Presidential Candidates Are Hardliners

Iran Election Frontrunner Is Under US Sanctions & 3
Of 4 Presidential Candidates Are Hardliners 1

Iranians are voting nationwide Friday as longtime president Hassan Rouhani – the well-known moderate who negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) – is on his way out after having served his limit of two terms. His time in office will expire on August 3rd. 

There are widespread reports of much lower than expected turnout even after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei pleaded for people to go to the polls as he cast his vote Friday morning in Tehran. “Each vote counts… come and vote and choose your president,” he said. “This is important for the future of your country.”

As we detailed earlier current head of the judiciary ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi – also seen as a close ally of Khamenei – is favored to win. Low turnout is expected to help him, particularly after years of sanctions have resulted in widespread voter apathy, extreme economic hardship, and continued pandemic fears – seen also as factors keeping people at home. 

Khamenei’s office/Handout via Reuters

“I urge everyone with any political view to vote,” Raisi declared Friday after casting his ballot. “Our people’s grievances over shortcomings are real, but if it is the reason for not participating, then it is wrong.” Ironically Raisi, who will likely be the next leader of the Islamic Republic, is currently under US sanctions.

A BBC profile of the current remaining four candidates for the Iranian presidency- after three dropped out on Thursday – also helps add context to current accusations coming from the West that this election is “rigged” in favor of hardliners:

“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” a Tehran shopkeeper was quoted by AFP news agency as saying. “They organize the elections for the media.”

Another, named as Vahid, a woodcraft teacher in the city, told Reuters he would vote “because my leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] wants me to”.

The elections coincide with the latest round of talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the accord, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Almost 600 hopefuls, including 40 women, registered for the election.

But in the end only seven men were approved last month by the 12 jurists and theologians on the hardline Guardian Council, an unelected body that has the ultimate decision with regard to candidates’ qualifications.

Given that the final candidates were filtered through the Islamic conservative Guardian Council, the only candidate remaining that’s widely seen as “moderate” is 64-year old Abdolnaser Hemmati, who has been governor of the Central Bank of Iran since 2018.

The other two candidates which are seen as having much less name recognition, Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, are both hardliners.

Importantly, a Raisi victory (now looking very likely) could bring the restored JCPOA nuclear deal into further doubt. The Ayatollah previously warned that Iran would not tolerate negotiations “dragging on” – however a mitigating factor is likely to be the US showing signs that it’s ready to drop or relax sanctions. 

The IAEA this week stated that “Everyone knows that, at this point, it will be necessary to wait for the new Iranian government” before a deal can be finalized in Vienna.

Iran Election Frontrunner Is Under US Sanctions & 3
Of 4 Presidential Candidates Are Hardliners 2
Ebrahim Raisi (right) greets his powerful backer Ayatollah Khamenei, via BBC

Meanwhile the White House reportedly wants to see a Vienna deal reached prior to the next Iranian president taking office, according to Axios

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