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Source: Iranintl

Jun 5, 2024

‘All the President’s Men’ Who Vie to Succeed Him in Iran

By Maryam Sinaiee

British Iranian journalist and political analyst

Considering the array of contenders vying for Ebrahim Raisi’s seat who have the highest chance of approval by the Guardian Council, it is highly unlikely that the next Iranian president will be a cleric.

In a tweet on Tuesday, prominent reformist commentator Abbas Abdi asserted that this is the first time since 1981 that clerics are not strongly represented among the registered candidates. Despite having held high positions and wield influence in the Islamic Republic, clerics now feel they have no chance of being elected.

Only three of the Islamic Republic’s eight presidents in over four decades -- Abolhassan Bani Sadr (1980-1981), Mohammad-Ali Rajai (August 1981) and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2009) -- were non-clerics. This means that in 45 years clerics occupied the presidential seat for more than 35 years.

Five of the seven Iranian president, who served more than a year, were clerics.

Bani Sadr was impeached and deposed by the clerical establishment. Rajai was assassinated along with his prime minister in a bombing 28 days after being elected.

Ahmadinejad who was once Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s desired president, however, fell from his favor during his second term of presidency. He was not allowed to stand in 2017 and 2021 and is very unlikely to be approved this time.

Abdi’s inference is apparently based on the predictions of the most likely candidates to be approved.

Only one cleric, former minister of justice and interior Mostafa Pourmohammadi, stands out among the registered candidates.

Pourmohammadi does not seem to be among the top contenders or have a considerable chance of winning against his non-clerical rivals, even if approved by the 12-member, non-elected watchdog, the Guardian Council.

A combo photo of presidential elections hopefuls who are part of the administration of late president Ebrahim Raisi

The government of the late President Ebrahim Raisi, however, is strongly represented among the candidates with two vice-presidents and three ministers. Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrdad Bazrpash, Minister of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare Sowlat Mortazavi, Vice-President and Head of the Planning and Budget Organization Davoud Manzour, Vice-President and Chief of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, and Minister of Justice Mohammad-Mehdi Esmaili have registered to run.

Presidential candidate Mehrdad Bazrpash seen with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Acting President Mohammad Mokhber was widely believed to aspire to the presidency, but to everyone's surprise, he did not register. It is now believed that he is eyeing the vice-presidency in the next government.

All government candidates claim they will continue Raisi’s path if elected.

The Mayor of Tehran, Alireza Zakani, also sits in cabinet sessions while hardliner politician and candidate Saeed Jalili who does not hold any official position in the government, is believed to wield great influence in it.

On Tuesday, Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, Raisi’s Chief of Staff, asserted on a live television program that the government does not support any specific candidate.

However, he urged "consensus" among those registered to run "so that a president with a high number of votes is elected."

Among the government-aligned candidates, Bazrpash, 44, is the most controversial yet widely believed to be the most likely to succeed if approved.

Bazrpash hails from populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s circle of ‘young advisers’ when the former president was the mayor of the capital prior to 2005. He was given several high positions in Ahmadinejad’s government including chief of the National Youth Organization.

Bazrpash was voted by lawmakers in 2020 as chief of the State Audit Organization but some lawmakers who challenged his qualification for the position argued that he was inexperienced for such a high position and had not served a minimum of twenty years in government positions as required.

Rumors circulated that Bazrpash was interrogated about his last-minute change of plans and decision not to board the same helicopter as President Raisi, even before Raisi's body was recovered from the crash site last month.

On May 22, journalist Fariborz Kalantari claimed that Bazrpash and his team had already held a meeting to plan his candidacy in the June 28 elections to take Raisi’s place.

After his last-minute registration, Bazrpash showed a thick volume to reporters which he claimed was the comprehensive plan of his government.

Many on social media say he could not have possibly written the plan in the less than two weeks he had to register as a candidate.

Bazrpash has also been accused of plagiarism in his Ph.D. thesis and financial corruption which rivals can use against him in election debates.

Many believe that if approved, all government officials, apparently except Esmaili, will eventually either withdraw from the race in favor of a ‘chosen’ one, or appear in a ‘supporting role’ to aid the block’s top candidate against Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, Saeed Jalili or reformist candidates if any of them is approved.

“It makes no difference who wins. They make promises before getting endorsed as president but after that [their path] is obeyance of the [Supreme] Leader.

We reject the entirety of this system,” one of Iran International TV’s audience said in a voice message.

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